A TRIUMPH FOR MONEY, INFLUENCE
Without a provision for media access, the Senate campaign ban hinders neutral, less wealthy candidates
An Election official in Chiang Mai posts the results of Wednesday’s Senate election outside the Election Commission office yesterday.
Wednesday's Senate election raised more questions than answers.
Senators are elected to screen laws - in effect they are intended as a counter-balance to the power given to members of Parliament.
They appoint the members of independent regulatory bodies, including the Auditor-General's Office, Election Commission and National Counter Corruption Commission, which wield extensive power over politicians and civil servants.
Importantly, they have the right to impeach the regulators' members.
Given the scale of their power, it is unnerving to think that many senators are believed to have connections to politicians. And this raises questions on how neutral they will be when they start their new job.
As it turns out, the election showed the Senate will become a new home for some politicians who have ended their careers in the Lower House - like Uthai Pimchaichon and Samak Sundaravej, politicians' relatives like Chai Chidchob, the father of PM's Office Minister Newin, retired civil servants and some newcomers.
It would be too optimistic to believe the newcomers would perform their job without prejudice, as the public knows so little about them.
It isn't surprising that Samak and Uthai managed to be among the 18 Bangkok senators, though they had been quite aloof from the political arena for some time. It wouldn't be wrong to say that one of the reasons for the votes they garnered was their popularity in the old days.
It's quite unfair for the many talented yet unknown candidates who wanted to devote themselves to serve the public. Those with financial back-up managed to print pamphlets to introduce themselves. Some could not even afford to get small introductory cards made.
While, in Bangkok, the Election Commission delivered the bio sheet of all candidates to some residents, others received nothing. They saw all the faces and their numbers hung up on the whiteboard at the polling stations, where the candidates' experience or educational credentials were not attached.
If voters are to exercise their right correctly, it is important all candidates are given media time to introduce themselves and briefly tell the public about their work philosophy.
If there are no time slots provided on radio or television, the Election Commission must ensure the credentials and work philosophy of each candidate are bundled in a document accessible to all voters.
Only then will the public know if the candidates will perform their duties according to their philosophy, once they get elected. Advertising himself as a pro-environment guy, a senator could disappoint his electorate if throughout the six years in the Senate he fails to press for any law to promote environmental conservation.
The fact that many of them are connected with politicians is equally amazing.
It raises the question of whether the Constitution should be amended to allow senators to belong to political parties.
The two clauses that bar senate candidates from advertising themselves or becoming a political party member run contradictory to the rules in place in the United States. Running for the Senate there, candidates can advertise themselves and become either a Republican or a Democrat.
Some may doubt the neutrality of Thai senators if these clauses are deleted.
But even with so many retired civil servants and non-partisan members, the Senate has so far failed the public in counter-balancing the Lower House's power. Throughout the past six years, only a few senate committees performed extraordinarily in the checks-and-balances system, as manifested in the investigation of the CTX scandal.
In this election, many politicians' relatives were also voted in and it's easy to predict how they will perform.
If Senate candidates will be further barred from self-introduction, and given the situation that so many politicians' relatives represent voters, it is better for them to show who they really are by telling the public who they really belong to.
But then, this raises a sequential question: if they are acting like those 500 politicians in the Lower House, why do we need a Senate? Why not dissolve the 200-member body and increase the number of MPs to 700? Then, the power to appoint independent regulatory bodies would fall to the members of parliament and all the MPs would have to take the blame if anything goes wrong with the functioning of independent organisations.
These are the questions that the people who will be involved with the upcoming political reform process should answer. And the answers should be made available before the next Senate election in six years.
Who knows, if the Senate is dissolved, the Thai political system could advance to the next step that earns global kudos.