King Vajiralongkorn endorses junta-appointed senators

Preecha Chan-o-cha, the younger brother of junta leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha, was appointed by the junta to the senate. File photo: Thai PBS
Preecha Chan-o-cha, the younger brother of junta leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha, was appointed by the junta to the senate. File photo: Thai PBS

Scores of junta loyalists were endorsed as members of the 250-strong senate yesterday, packing the upper house with allies likely to vote for coup leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s return as civilian premier after a highly disputed poll.

The full list, which included the junta leader’s brother and scores of military officers, was appointed by junta number two Prawit Wongsuwan, endorsed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn and published in palace mouthpiece The Royal Gazette.

Army Chief Apirat Kongsompong and National Police Chief Chakthip Chaijinda are now senators, as expected, thanks to a controversial military-scripted constitution adopted in 2017. Prior to the new constitution written under military supervision, the senate was partially elected.

But Prawit also selected some 100 serving and retiring military and police officers — making up 40 percent of the senate. He also picked more than 50 members of the rubber-stamp National Legislative Assembly, and 15 ministers to be elevated to the senate.

Nearly half are drawn from the members of the security forces who’ve been in power alongside civilian members representing the most conservative factions of society.

Well-known family names of the junta’s top-ranking officials and allies are on the list as well, most notably Prayuth’s younger brother Preecha Chan-o-cha, who last week retired from the assembly, where he was criticized for rarely attending meetings.

Joining him are siblings of Prawit and deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, as well as the older brother of Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

The younger brother of army-aligned fortuneteller Warin Buawiratlert – who predicted coup leader Prayuth would hold onto power after the March 24 poll – will also be in the senate.

The 250 members will vote alongside 500 elected lower house MPs to select the prime minister after parliament convenes in the coming weeks.

With the senate in hand, the junta-backed Palang Pracharath Party will need only 126 votes in the lower house for Prayuth to sail to the top position.

Anti-junta parties would require a whopping 376 votes to gain a majority in the 750-seat parliament and override the senate advantage.

So far, the coalition led by junta rival Pheu Thai, linked to billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, holds 245 seats against the 135 promised to Palang Pracharat.

Horsetrading and negotiations for the remaining seats are under way.

“The nepotism is blatant” in the senate appointments, said analyst Paul Chambers of Naresuan University, adding that the endorsement sends a “negative message” to parties trying to scoop up more seats. “Palang Pracharat now has the upper hand.”

Additional reporting Coconuts Bangkok

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