Under Thailand's new constitution passed last year, only 76 of the 150-member upper house are elected, with one elected senator representing each of Thailand's 76 provinces, while the remainder are appointed by a committee comprising mostly judges and bureaucrats.
Under the previous constitution, which was discarded after the coup d'etat of September 19, 2006, the entire senate was elected.
A partially appointed senate is deemed a step backward for Thai democracy by many observers.
"The appointed senate is a big disappointment," said Jon Ungphrakorn, a former senator and now a leading advocate for civil society groups. "They don't represent society in general, for instance there is no one representing labour."
Although the appointed senators, who were selected during the rule of the previous military-appointed government, may not vote for the current government, they are deemed a conservative force.
"They will be conservative, not reformist," predicted Jon.
The senate, which is designed to be a neutral body to counterbalance the elected lower house, has a mandate to appoint ombudsmen and judges, to screen laws, investigate government policies and impeach ministers should a corruption case be brought against them by the Counter Corruption Commission.
Confusion about the senate's role was obvious among voters.
"I knew there was a senate election today but I have no idea what the senate does," said Kaetgeow Pidganngern after casting her vote in Bangkok.
Adding to the confusion was the large number of candidates contesting in each province - 35 in Bangkok alone - and the fact that most of the candidates were relatively unknown to the public.
Even Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, 72, had to enter the polling station twice after forgetting the number of the candidate he planned to vote for the first time around.
Less than 70 per cent of the 44 million eligible voters are expected to cast their ballots Sunday, election commission officials predicted.
"There are fewer voters this morning than there were for the December 23 general election," said police senior sergeant Littibaet Polthipak, who was monitoring the voting station in Klong Tan, Bangkok.
Last Mod: 02 Mart 2008, 18:27