May 14, 2019 / 10:20 AM / 13 days ago

A third of Thailand's appointed senators linked to military, police

BANGKOK (Reuters) - More than a third of Thailand’s newly appointed senators have military or police backgrounds, an official document showed on Tuesday, a sign the upper house will probably vote to entrench army dominance of government five years after a military coup.

The 250 senators, appointed by the junta and approved on Tuesday by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, have a large say in who leads the next government under a post-coup constitution ratified in 2017.

“There is no denying that the Upper House will be a tool to extend the junta’s power,” said Piyabutr Saengkanokkul of the Future Forward Party, which opposes military rule.

One new senator is the brother of ruling junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, and more than a dozen were members of his cabinet, a Royal Gazette document reviewed by Reuters showed.

The Senate appointments come after a March 24 election that pitted the pro-army Palang Pracharat party, which seeks to keep Prayuth in power, against the opposition Democratic Front alliance that wants the military out of politics.

Election results published last week showed Palang Pracharat winning 115 seats in the 500-member lower House of Representatives and the opposition alliance 245 seats.

But the Senate may be the key to keeping Prayuth in power, as it will vote in a combined ballot with the House of Representatives to elect a new prime minister. Under previous constitutions, the House voted alone.

If all 250 senators vote the same way, Prayuth’s party, whose allies already hold 17 seats, will have just over the majority of 376 required in the combined House-Senate vote to approve him as prime minister.

The Senate list includes the names of 105 people with ranks in the military or police, a Reuters count showed. Also among them were Prayuth’s brother, General Preecha Chan-ocha, and a brother of deputy junta leader Prawit Wongsuwan.

It also included 15 former ministers in Prayuth’s cabinet who resigned last week, many of them generals counted among his close aides.

About 26 civilian lawmakers on the list also had previous ties with the junta, having been appointed as members of the rubber-stamp parliamentary body National Legislative Assembly.

Reuters could not immediately reach representatives of Prayuth or Palang Pracharat to seek comment.

On Tuesday, the king also decreed that the next parliament will convene on May 22, the fifth anniversary of the 2014 coup.

The 2017 junta-backed constitution was criticized as entrenching military influence in Thai politics. Electoral rules make it nearly impossible for the opposition to overcome the Senate’s vote to form its own government.

But the Democratic Front alliance of seven parties said it was still working to woo over parties and individual lawmakers, in a bid to deny the military party unfettered power.

The Democratic Front has also accused the Election Commission of manipulating seat allocations to deny it a majority in the House of Representatives.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Kay Johnson and Clarence Fernandez

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