Thais voted on Sunday for half of the country’s 150-seat Senate in a key test for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s troubled government, a day before Shinawatra is due to defend herself against negligence charges over a disastrous rice subsidy scheme.
Anti-government protesters are in their fifth month of a campaign to force Yingluck out and set in motion political and electoral reforms before a new general election takes place.
Yingluck’s opponents want impeachment charges over the Thai government’s financially ruinous rice scheme.
A Senate dominated by anti-government politicians could hasten her exit.
Thailand’s Senate is made up of 77 elected senators, with 73 other appointed seats that are seen as allied to those opposed to former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother.
Anti-government forces want to ensure a pro-establishment, conservative, majority to influence any decision to remove the prime minister, which would require the votes of three-fifths of the senators.
Yingluck is due to appear before Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) today to defend herself against charges of dereliction of duty for her role in overseeing the botched rice scheme.
While party affiliation is prohibited in the non-partisan Senate, the majority of the 77 elected seats will be decided on the basis of endorsements from party-affiliated, powerful, local institutions, particularly in rural areas, meaning that the result could deliver a pro-Yingluck majority.
“The Senate vote is likely to deliver a result similar to the nullified Feb. 2 election for the lower house, meaning it will be pro-government,” Siam Intelligence Unit political analyst Kan Yuenyong said.
“However most, around 90 percent, of appointed senators are anti-government, so if the Senate is asked to remove Yingluck, they’re very close to the number of voices needed to do that,” Kan added.
Thailand has been locked in a seemingly intractable political stalemate since Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup.
The conflict broadly pits the Bangkok-based middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural Shinawatra supporters.
Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched through the streets of Bangkok on Saturday to drum up support to oust the prime minister and rid the country of Thaksin’s influence.
“If the opposition keeps boycotting elections, we’ll never get anywhere and Thailand will be unable to solve its problems,” Jarupong Ruangsuwan, leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, told reporters yesterday after casting his ballot for the upper house.