By The Nation
POLLS opened yesterday for 77 Senate seats that could hold the key to the fate of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who, after five months of street protests, may face impeachment for negligence of duty.
While the Senate is officially non-partisan, in reality the two main political camps – the ruling Pheu Thai Party and opposition Democrat Party – are trying to control the 150-seat Upper House in the absence of a functioning Lower House after the election last month was annulled.
From unofficial results last night, it was obvious that winning candidates are likely to come from the two rival parties, or the red-shirt and anti-government camps. Most top contenders are former ministers or party members, MPs, or politicians’ relatives. Some of them are close to anti-government protesters.
Former Auditor General Khunying Jaruwan Maintaka appeared to win the Senate poll in Bangkok with more than 500,000 votes while about one million people voted. Jaruwan, who is known as a tireless opponent of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, vowed not to disappoint the people who voted for her. “I will be determined in protecting the national assets,” Jaruwan said after she learned the unofficial results.
Appointed Senator Khamnoon Sitthisamarn posted a note on Facebook saying Jaruwan is qualified to contest the post of Senate speaker if she wants.
The anti-Thaksin regime group, or representatives of the Democrat Party, are also likely to sweep seats in several southern provinces and some eastern provinces such as ex-Democrat MP Boonsong Khaiket in Trat.
In Prachuap Khiri Khan, former provincial administrative organisation president Suebyos Baiyaem is the likely winner. He is backed by former Democrat secretary |general Chalermchai Sri-on. In Chumphon, Pol Colonel Narin Butsayawit, son of former Chumphon MP Narrong Butsayawit, got a big boost from a key leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee and is likely to win
Senate candidates likely to win who are government supporters include former Chart Thai Pattana MP Jongchai Thiangtham in Suphan Buri and Monthien Songpracha in Chai Nat. Monthien is believed to be a Pheu Thai supporter as his wife has become a party member.
In Chiang Mai, Adisorn Kamnerdsiri, former Chiang Mai deputy governor, who has close ties with Pheu Thai, is tipped to win.
In Khon Kaen, red-shirt lawyer Wan Suwanpong has left his competition far behind. In Udon Thani, red-shirt hardliner Kwanchai Praipana’s wife Arporn Sarakham won up to 300,000 votes to take the seat.
Anti-government protesters are pushing for the removal of Yingluck as PM. The earliest this could happen would be through an impeachment, which would require votes from three-fifths of the Senate if she is found guilty by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on charges of dereliction of duty for her role in overseeing the rice-pledging scheme. Yingluck is due to appear before the NACC today.
Observers said the elected portion could install many pro-government members to help bolster the administration in the face of looming legal challenges. However, a Senate dominated by anti-government politicians could hasten her exit.
The unelected senators are appointed by institutions seen as allied to the anti-government protesters, such as the Constitutional Court and the Election Commission.
Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said the half-Senate ballots went smoothly across the country yesterday except in Narathiwat, where two police were killed in a bomb attack. In Nakhon Pathom, a voter was charged with destroying a ballot paper. Six electoral complaints were filed – two in Bangkok and others in Nakhon Pathom, Nong Bua Lamphu and Chiang Mai.
Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra turned up at about noon to vote at polling unit No 32 at Khlong Lamchiak School in Bung Kum district.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday he would submit a doctor’s certificate to the EC to prove he could not physically cast a ballot.
He said his doctor had instructed he rest and refrain from moving his body after undergoing surgery to fix his collarbone. Abhisit slipped in a bathroom last week at his house on Sukhumvit road. He said the injury is still painful after the surgery.
EC deputy secretary general Somsak Suriyamongkol said many provinces in the North saw a high voter turnout, such as Loei, Phayao and Chiang Mai, plus regions such as Phetchabun and Chachoengsao.
In Nakhon Ratchasima, there were many “no votes” in the 32 districts with many constituencies in Muang district seeing a higher number than the total votes received by the winner.