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Thailand’s complex Senate election at risk as court decision looms

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Thailand’s complex Senate election at risk as court decision looms

Bangkok, Thailand – Thailand’s nearly one-month-long Senate selection process kicked off last week, amid accusations that the system is skewed in favour of the conservative establishment, and as legal threats against the opposition risk derailing tentative steps back towards democracy.

After seizing power in a 2014 coup, the Thai military directly appointed 250 people to the upper house in a move seen as an attempt to stymie meaningful political reform as the country transitioned back to a flawed democracy. After last year’s election, the senators blocked the progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) from forming a government, even though it had won the most seats in parliament and the largest share of the vote.

The Senate’s role in choosing the prime minister was temporary, however, as was its direct appointment by the military. This month a new batch of 200 senators is being selected from the leaders of key industries, in a complicated weeks-long process where only registered candidates are allowed to vote.

Candidates must be over 40 years old, have 10 years of experience in their field, not be a current member of a political party, and pay a registration fee of 2,500 baht ($68). Ten candidates will be selected from 20 occupational groups, including government, law, education, arts and culture, and women’s affairs. The final round of voting is expected on June 26, with results announced on July 2.

“The new lot of senators will have two key roles,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor and senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

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“Constitutional change requires one-third of the 200 new senators. Equally important, the new senators will have oversight over appointments of the Election Commission and Constitutional Court.”

The current constitution was promulgated under the military in 2017, and calls for it to be amended or scrapped have grown in recent years. Rulings by the Election Commission and Constitutional Court, meanwhile, have seen pro-democracy political candidates and parties dissolved and banned.

Most recently, they have turned their attention to MFP. The Election Commission recommended that the Constitutional Court dissolve the progressive party based on its calls to reform the controversial lese-majeste law, which criminalises criticism of the monarchy. The Constitutional Court is still deliberating and could announce its decision on Tuesday. It previously ruled in January that MFP’s reform attempts were tantamount to attempting to overthrow the monarchy.

Candidates must be checked beforehand to make sure they are over the age of 40 and have 10 years of experience in their field. They must also not be a member of a political party [Sakchai Lalit/AP Photo]

Thitinan said that given the continued importance of the Senate, it was “being contested fiercely”.

“There will likely be moves by the conservative establishment, including the Election Commission, to make sure the Senate does not end up with enough progressive voices to change the constitution,” he said.

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Even the constitutionality of the senate selection has been challenged, with the Constitutional Court expected to deliver a verdict on its legality on Tuesday morning.

Ruchapong Chamjirachaikul, a member of the legal advocacy group iLaw, said the process was “neither fair nor democratic” and that was intentional.

“The problems you see in the process are a feature not a bug… a lot of them are by design,” he said, adding that the process should not be called an “election” but a “selection”.

Chamjirachaikul said his team has already received some reports of irregularities, like former generals registering to represent the agriculture sector, or people being offered 10,000 baht ($270) to register and vote for a specific candidate.

‘Tainted’

June, a 26-year-old assistant to progressive candidate Nongyao Nawarat, a retired professor of sociology at Chiang Mai University, said the “unfair selection system” was designed to prevent young people from participating.

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She said the approach showed the establishment was scared of younger voters and their demands for reform, and would do whatever it took to block real change. Before the election, progressive activists and candidates activated their grassroots networks, encouraging as many people sympathetic to the movement as possible to register as candidates.

“Of course, conservatives do similar things,” June said. “And they still [have] the advantage of spending more money. But I still believe in the power of the people on our side.”

Because of the way the process is structured, it is impossible to counter conservative organising without encouraging contacts to register with the intention of voting for somebody else. But Chamjirachaikul said the progressive strategy was to be “open and transparent”.

“We have a public event and ask any candidate to come to this event, the press are allowed to be there, and they will introduce themselves in the open,” he said. “You have to say what you stand for – new constitution, amending lese-majeste, democratic principles, are you against another coup?”

The interior of the Thai Senate in session. It is grey. Seats are arranged in a semi circle with two giant screens at the front on either side.
The previous Senate, seen here during an April vote on same-sex marriage, was appointed by the military  [Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP]

Chamjirachaikul stressed candidates needed to sign up, even if they did not expect or even want to win a seat, in order to vote.

“We don’t pay anyone, we don’t even have the money to pay anyone. But if you’re over 40, have the money, have the time and want to contribute to democracy, you can register and vote for somebody who shares the same vision of democracy for Thailand as you,” he said.

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He said the eventual senate will lack representation and accountability, which will further tarnish the body’s reputation, already “tainted” by years of acting as a proxy for the military.

“When you don’t have clear representation you don’t have clear accountability, unlike MPs who would have to be confronted by their own constituencies, but who are these new senators’ constituencies? There’s no one,” Chamjirachaikul said.

However, even with the selection issues, Thitinan said the next senate would “still be more representative of the Thai people compared to the expired 250-member senate which was chosen by the military”.

This is in line with other modest reforms since last year’s election, which saw the moderate pro-democracy Pheu Thai Party form a coalition government with conservative and military-backed parties.

But Chamjirachaikul said it was worth asking why Thailand needed a Senate at all. “We as Thais should be able to debate and discuss on this openly,” he said. “We’ve seen enough of the Senate.”

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June said regardless of what the establishment did to hold back the tide, youth activists would continue fighting for change.

“We are the new generation. We will do whatever it takes to change this country for the better. It may not happen in a single session or in a single night. But it will gradually change.”

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Congressional Hispanic Caucus' Campaign Arm Endorses Biden for President -Statement

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Congressional Hispanic Caucus' Campaign Arm Endorses Biden for President -Statement
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The fundraising arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Bold PAC, has endorsed President Joe Biden for re-election, the Biden campaign said in a statement on Friday, as the 81-year-old president continues to rebuff calls for him to step down as the Democrats’ 2024 …
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Netanyahu, Israel blast UN court decision over illegal settlements ruling: 'Fundamentally wrong'

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Netanyahu, Israel blast UN court decision over illegal settlements ruling: 'Fundamentally wrong'

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The United Nation’s top court has ruled Israel’s settlements in the Palestinian territories are illegal, and they must be removed immediately.

“The State of Israel is under the obligation to bring an end to its unlawful presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as rapidly as possible,” ICJ President Nawaf Salam said when he delivered the court’s findings on Friday, stressing that the “continued presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is illegal.” 

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The opinion is merely advisory and is not legally binding. The court specifically aimed to provide its view on Israel’s policies and practices as well as the legal status of the settlements, the BBC reported. 

The court in May demanded Israel “immediately halt its military offensive” against Hamas in Rafah, the Palestinian terrorist group’s final stronghold in the Gaza Strip.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly rejected the court’s conclusion, arguing in a statement posted on X that “Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land, including in our eternal capital Jerusalem nor in Judea and Samaria, our historic homeland.

“No absurd opinion in The Hague can deny this historical truth or the legal right of Israelis to live in their own communities in our ancestral home.” 

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The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a longer, more detailed statement through its spokesperson Oren Marmorstein, who posted on social media platform X that “Israel rejects the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that was published today regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” 

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“Unfortunately, the Court’s opinion is fundamentally wrong,” Marmorstein wrote. “It mixes politics and law. It injects the politics of the corridors of the U.N. in New York into the courtrooms of the ICJ in The Hague.

Nawaf Salam, judge and president of the International Court of Justice, second from right, delivers a non-binding ruling on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem at the International Court of Justice in The Hague July 19, 2024.  (Nick Gammon/AFP via Getty Images)

“The opinion is completely detached from the reality of the Middle East: While Hamas, Iran and other terrorist elements are attacking Israel from seven fronts … with the aim of obliterating it, and in the aftermath of the greatest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, the opinion ignores the atrocities that took place on October 7, as well as the security imperative of Israel to defend its territory and its citizens,” Marmostein continued.

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“It should be emphasized that the opinion is blatantly one-sided,” Marmostein added. “It ignores the past: The historical rights of the State of Israel and the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

BIDEN’S $230 MILLION GAZA PIER QUIETLY SHUTS DOWN, US SENATOR LABELS PROJECT ‘NATIONAL EMBARRASSMENT’

Israeli settlements

Two Israeli Cabinet members issued a rebuttal to American criticism of settlement construction in the West Bank, also known as Judea and Samaria in Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“It is detached from the present: from the reality on the ground and the agreements between the parties,” he stressed. “And it is dangerous for the future: it distances the parties from the only possible solution, which is direct negotiations.”

Netherlands Hague Israel

Members of the diplomatic corps react as they attend a non-binding ruling on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem at the International Court of Justice in The Hague July 19, 2024. (Nick Gammon/AFP via Getty Images)

Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust and president at Human Rights Voices, told Fox News Digital the court’s opinion “literally throws out the Oslo Accords and U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

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Israeli flag

This picture taken July 30, 2020, from the Mount of the Olives shows a view of an Israeli flag flying in Jerusalem with the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock seen in the background.  (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

“It is impossible to overstate the legal perversion from this U.N. Court,” Bayefsky said. “It was read out by its president, who is a politician from Lebanon (whose name was on the ballot to be the prime minister of Lebanon in the last two elections), a country that doesn’t even recognize Israel’s right to exist. Incredibly, the court openly states it didn’t need to find any specific facts in violation of international law before reaching its conclusions, including before making the slanderous claim that Israel is guilty of the crime against humanity of apartheid. It took the court all of four mini-paragraphs to reach the apartheid conclusion.

“The U.N. and its kangaroo court says it knows best — the same U.N. that today is controlled by a vicious antisemitic majority, elects the judges and chooses the poison, in this case, legal farce — which, make no mistake, has one goal: to devastate and destroy the Jewish state.”

Israel already suffered a legal blow from the International Criminal Court, a separate legal governing body in the Netherlands, in which Prosecutor Karim Khan filed applications for arrest warrants against Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in addition to leaders of Hamas.

The State Department did not respond to a Fox News Digital request for comment by the time of publication.

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State of the Union: Von der Leyen and Metsola reelected, Trump nominated

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State of the Union: Von der Leyen and Metsola reelected, Trump nominated

This edition of State of the Union focuses on the reelection of Ursula von der Leyen and Roberta Metsola and the state of play of the U.S. presidential campaign.

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Hello and welcome to State of the Union, I’m Stefan Grobe in Strasbourg.

It’s still July, but for European lawmakers it felt like back-to-school day.

Following the European elections in June, the new and old members of the European Parliament gathered in Strasbourg for the first plenary session of the new legislative season.

The 720-member chamber is the EU only directly elected institution, it negotiates and adopts EU legislative proposals and approves the bloc’s budget.

On top of the agenda this week: the election of the top positions in Parliament and Commission – no real surprise here, as Roberta Metsola and Ursula von der Leyen were both confirmed in office.

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Metsola, who easily won a second term, got a little emotional when she recalled what Europe meant to her when she grew up in Malta.

“To me, Europe was worth fighting for. It was never perfect, but we looked to the European Parliament, to this Strasbourg hemicycle, as a symbol of standards of opportunity, of reconciliation. It was our guarantee of the rule of law, of equality, of democracy, of liberty, of prosperity.”

While all eyes were on Strasbourg this week, it was business as usual in Brussels.

And for the EU Commission it meant grappling with the drama of the presidential campaign in the United States.

The attempted assassination of Donald Trump in Pennsylvania sent shockwaves through the corridors of power in Brussels.

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell reacted with condemnation and relief: “Fortunately, the attack on Trump was not what they wanted it to be, he is alive, thank God. And hopefully the campaign will normalize and Americans will decide what they think is right.”

The assassination attempt paired with the struggle inside the Democratic Party over whether President Joe Biden should drop out of the race have dramatically upended the election campaign.

At the Republican Convention in Milwaukee this week, Trump was celebrated as a hero and a survivor of evil.

Republicans are now more confident than ever before to win in November, even to beat Biden in a landslide.

So, do we all have to fasten our belts and get ready for another Trump administration in Washington? What does that mean for Europe?

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We spoke to Majda Ruge, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, based in Berlin.

Euronews: Following the assassination attempt, Trump and Biden have called for unity – how long can that moment last? Or is it already over?

Ruge: Well, the sort of unity that we’re actually seeing is more in the Republican Party, I would say. I think Trump’s call for unity is also a very subtle and intelligent tactics to reach out to either undecided or disgruntled Biden voters in the swing states. So, you know, I’m not expecting a sudden turn to, national unity, really, but more kind of an approach of unifying the Republican Party and then reaching out to voters that might be useful for President Trump.

Euronews: European leaders have been preparing for a Trump victory in November – will they have to step up their efforts now?

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Ruge: They definitely will have. I think the key question really on these preparations is not whether they should prepare and step up, but when they should have started, and I think they should have started long time ago, at least two years ago. Now it’s very clear that there will be a radical shift in the U.S. foreign policy if Trump is re-elected, and that the Europeans will be faced with multiple policy shocks at the same time, starting from potential withdrawal of U.S. aid for Ukraine over radical downsizing of U.S. military presence in Europe and their role in NATO through trade protectionism.

Euronews: What will bring a possible vice president JD Vance to future U.S.-EU relations?

Well, if you kind of look at his foreign policy profile, not that he has an active one as a government official, but he has been quite vocal, and active both in terms of interviews, statements and op-eds. He is a big, big sceptic of U.S. support for Ukraine. He thinks that the wealthy European nations, and he has singled out Germany many times, are the one who are responsible for really financing and, you know, paying for this war. He is kind of a restrainer in heart, but in fact, on foreign policy, a big prioritizer of China and Taiwan. So, I think that one thing we can expect as Europeans, if Trump is elected, is that JD Vance, his appointment as vice president is going to draw in many of the foreign policy experts in the Republican ecosystem who have long been arguing that a radical shift of military and financial resources needs to be made from Europe and Ukraine to China and Taiwan.

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