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BANGKOK: Thailand’s newly appointed 250-member Senate, which will play a crucial role in selecting the country’s next prime minister, will include more than 100 members of the police and military who have wielded power since a 2014 coup, according to the list of appointees issued on Tuesday.

Along with their civilian allies, virtually all of the senators represent conservative elements in Thai society that have dominated the administration since the coup ousted an elected government. They include 15 former members of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, as well as many members of the unelected parliament that served under his junta.

The senators, appointed by the junta, are expected to act as a bloc supporting Prayuth when a joint vote to choose the next prime minister is held in the next few weeks with the 500 members of the House of Representatives elected in March.

By voting with the pro-military parties in the lower house, Prayuth should be able to gain the majority needed to return to office. However, there is a possibility that anti-military parties could end up controlling the lower house, which could give Prayuth a hard time passing laws and getting a budget approved.

A new constitution implemented under Prayuth’s regime made the Senate a totally appointed body, one of several measures that were designed to limit the power of elected politicians and pass it into the hands of senior civil servants, the military, the judiciary and other pillars of Thailand’s traditional establishment.

The moves were made in large part to curb the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose populist policies won him enormous support and threatened the influence of traditional power holders, including the military. He was deposed by a 2006 military coup, but his following remained strong. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, became prime minister in 2011, only to have her Pheu Thai party government also toppled by the army in 2014.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2019