UPPER HOUSE ELECTION
Senate: New faces, same old ties
Candidates thought to have links with Thai Rak Thai out in front
Senate candidates known or alleged to have connections with political parties, particularly Thai Rak Thai, will parade into Parliament following yesterday's election of the Upper House.
The results ominously reflect the national divide over controversial caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
In the North and Northeast, candidates who are relatives of, or known to be close to, government politicians were late last night taking comfortable leads in preliminary vote counts in most areas, and the eventual results will confirm the Thai Rak Thai Party's domination of the regions.
In the South, candidates linked to the opposition Democrats were also leading. The most intriguing battleground, however, is Bangkok, where initial results also seem to be a reflection of the bitter polarisation first made evident by the April 2 general election.
Veteran politician Samak Sundaravej, considered a staunch government supporter, was running neck-and-neck, with anti-Thaksin columnist and TV host Nitipoom Nawarat for the first spot in early counts. Despite Samak's good showing, various candidates promoted by the People's Alliance for Democracy acted as a counter-balance to Thai Rak Thai, and were poised to be among the capital's 18 winners.
But the apparent political affiliation of many candidates will cast a major shadow over the upper chamber, supposed to be an independent force to keep the administrative branch in check. Despite its formidable power, the past Senate failed to counter-balance the Thai Rak Thai government, and many senators were even contemptuously labelled "slaves" to the administration.
With the Northeast offering 69 Senate seats, the North 35 and the Central region 51, observers do not expect much change. Rather, they predict continued Thai Rak Thai dominance of the upper chamber.
In Nakhon Ratchasima alone, wives and brothers of key Thai Rak Thai leaders Suwat Liptapanlop, Pairoj Suwanchawee, Chamlong Krutkhuntod and Suporn Attavong looked poised to win last night.
In Buri Ram, the father of another key Thai Rak Thai figure, Newin Chidchob, will surely take one seat. Other potential winners include the wife of Thai Rak Thai's Sophon Phetsawang and a brother of Thammarak Isaragura na Ayutthaya.
Strengthening cynics' claims that Parliament will consist of "chambers of husbands and wives", the wife of caretaker Natural Resources and Environment Minister Yongyuth Tiyapairat was set to win in Chiang Rai, while in Loei, a Thai Rak Thai MP's wife and a former Thai Rak Thai MP were out in front. In Maha Sarakham, the wife of a former pro-government senator was shown to be leading in early counts.
Pro-Thai Rak Thai candidates were also dominating Chiang Mai ballots, although surprisingly Thaksin's sister-in-law Poruethai Shinawatra was trailing in seventh spot. The northern province has five Senate seats.
The overall results threatened to be a major blow to the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy, which had been campaigning for voters nationwide to disregard candidates with links to Thaksin or the Thai Rak Thai Party.
The PAD even supported certain candidates in the northeastern region, but most of them were staring into the jaws of defeat yesterday.
With so many winning candidates having links or suspected links with Thai Rak Thai, the new Senate is - like the last one - unlikely to wield its impeachment power.
In an act of desperation, Chat Thai Party leader Banharn Silapa-archa yesterday sarcastically suggested the Senate revert to being an appointed body to ensure balance. But Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva displayed optimism, calling on incoming senators to join hands to restore checks and balances via the new round of political reforms.
In Bangkok, observers said, the initial results showed that voters in the capital were still struck by a strong desire to counter-balance the Thai Rak Thai Party, considering the number of winning candidates critical of the prime minister.
Eighteen Bangkok leaders as of 10pm:1. Nitipoom Nawarat 24,317 votes
2. Samak Sundaravej 23,054
3. KlanarongChanthig 10,649
4. Bhichit Rattakul 10,038
5. Rosana Tositrakul 9,017
6. Sombati Medhanee 6,168
7. Samai Charoenchang 5,242
8. Sutat Muangsiri 3,902
9. Nalinee Taveesin 3,641
10. Kwansuang Atibodhi 3,506
11. Pichit Kwuandechakup 3,188
12. Wichuda Ratanapien 2,710
13. Pipat Preedawiphat 2,572
14. Soontorn Saikwan 2,554
15. Uthai Pimchaichon 2,290
16. Art-Ong Jumsai Na Ayudhya 2,020
17. Chutinant Bhirom Bhakdi 1,976
18. Samart Maluleem 1,958