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Explainer: How Thailand's Senate Elections Work

May 08, 2024 • By Emma Kenny
Source: iLaw TH @ flickr

A political process dubbed “the most complicated elections in the world” is set to begin in Thailand when the current Senate's term of office expires on 11 May 2024. Yet, as explained below, the process seems set to be more a selection than an election

This next set of 200 senators will take office in July 2024 marking a significant departure from the current composition of the institution. The current Senate was formed as part of a political process that followed the 2014 coup d’état, in which the military junta known as the  National Peace and Order Maintaining Council (NCPO) took power, dissolving the Senate that existed at the time. The NCPO had a key role in drafting the 2017 constitution, and establishing the transitional institutions. Following the May 2019 general election, the NCPO directly appointed the 250 current ‘transitional’ senators. In addition to being appointed, this transitional Senate differs from the new Senate in that it had the power to choose the prime minister. 

Critics of the 2019 Senate argued that its composition and powers were designed to establish it as a base of power for the NCPO. This criticism seemed to have been justified when the junta-appointed Senate blocked the Move Forward Party (MFP), the surprise winner of the 2023 general election, from forming a government with its eight-party coalition and re-nominating its candidate, Pita Limjaroenrat, to be prime minister. This move clearly thwarted popular will.

The upcoming Senate elections will be an important indicator of the trajectory of Thailand’s democracy, presenting a unique opportunity to reshape the upper house and make it representative -- in stark comparison with the outgoing Senate.  

Here’s what to know:

How do the elections work?

While applications to stand as a candidate for the Senate will be open to most Thai citizens, only those who apply to be candidates will be able to vote in the election. Candidacy is linked to both area of residence and occupation. Candidates are required to pay an application fee of 2500 Baht (68 USD), which Human Rights Watch identifies as equivalent to “seven times Thailand’s minimum daily wage,” posing a key barrier to achieving an inclusive election process. 

Who can run?

According to the Election Commission of Thailand, any potential senatorial candidate must: 

  • Be a natural-born citizen of Thailand and at least 40 years of age.

  • Demonstrate that they have at least 10 years of knowledge, experience, and expertise in the occupational field from which they apply (more on this below). 

  • Hold no political positions i.e., members of political parties or public servants are barred from running. People who have served as members of parliament must wait five years before they can apply to be a candidate. In addition, no children or spouses of members of parliament may run.

  • Demonstrate that they have ties to the district from which they apply, through birth, residence, or at least two years of continuous work or study.

According to the Election Commission of Thailand and iLaw, candidates can apply to one (and only one) of the following 20 specified occupational groups: