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Thailand unveils Senate made up of military government's allies

Bangkok

THAILAND unveiled an appointed Senate that will play a key role in selecting the next prime minister and which features scores of current or retired military and police officials.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn approved the 250 members of the upper chamber in a Royal Gazette statement on Tuesday, with Parliament due to meet from May 22 onwards. The Senate will vote jointly with the elected lower house on the next premier following March's disputed general election.

The Senate includes former Cabinet members and lawmakers under the junta, as well as top military brass, such as army chief Apirat Kongsompong. Many analysts expect the upper house to back Prayuth Chan-Ocha, leader of the 2014 coup, to return as premier. His brother Preecha was also appointed to the chamber.

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Mr Prayuth is the prime ministerial candidate for Palang Pracharath, a party carved out of the military administration. Official results from March's poll signal the party is on course to put together a governing coalition, though there are concerns it could be fragile and short-lived.

"The list shows that a pro-military party-led government coalition is more likely," said Paul Chambers, a Thai politics expert at Naresuan University's College of Asean Community Studies.

Critics say the junta-appointed Senate gives the military establishment the ability to stifle the 500 elected members of the lower house and keep a grip on power. Mr Prayuth needs only 126 lower house votes to become premier if he sweeps the upper chamber.

A group of 11 small parties on Monday pledged to back Palang Pracharath and Mr Prayuth, bolstering the pro-military coalition's chances of forming the next administration.

Palang Pracharath has an alliance of 132 seats based on official declarations so far, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Six other parties with more than 100 seats in total have yet to announce their intentions.

An anti-junta coalition led by Pheu Thai - a party linked to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra - has 245 seats, just short of a lower house majority.

Pheu Thai has said it lost the chance to form a majority coalition because of an unconstitutional interpretation of electoral rules, and is threatening legal action. A Constitutional Court ruling on May 8 backing the Election Commission's contested calculation formula for some parliamentary seats paved the way for the finalisation of election results last week.

Pheu Thai won the most seats - 136 - in the lower house overall, but fell short of a majority. Palang Pracharath was second with 115.

The new government will face the task of boosting a slowing economy amid sliding exports, moderating tourist arrivals and a spreading drought. The Finance Ministry has forecast the slowest growth in three years. BLOOMBERG