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May 30, 2017

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Thais vote for Senate as PM showdown looms

BANGKOK -- Thais voted Sunday to elect the upper house of parliament in a poll that could hold the key to the fate of the prime minister, who faces possible impeachment for negligence after months of street protests.

While the Senate is officially non-partisan, in reality the two main political camps are vying for control of the chamber in the absence of a functioning lower house following incomplete February polls.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has resisted massive pressure to step down despite months of street protests and a slew of legal moves against her — including over her alleged role in a rice subsidy scheme that could lead to an impeachment vote in the Senate.

Polls closed on Sunday afternoon, according to an election official, who said there was no repeat of the widespread disruption caused by anti-government protesters to a February 2 general election, which was also boycotted by the main opposition party.

That vote was voided by the Constitutional Court earlier this month.

"Today's (Sunday's) election went smoothly ... if the parties concerned create a stable political situation then an election can be successful," Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn told reporters.

With Thailand's political crisis lurching towards its sixth month, the Senate polls have taken on fresh importance.

Experts say the elected portion — a narrow majority of the 150-seat chamber — could install many pro-government senators to help bolster the administration in the face of looming legal challenges.

The other, unelected senators are appointed by institutions seen as allied to the anti-government establishment, such as the Constitutional Court and the Election Commission.

Preliminary results are due late Sunday but the official list of newly elected senators could take days to approve.

At a central Bangkok polling station a steady streams of voters cast their vote, according to AFP reporters.

"Elections are best for democracy. Whatever we do, we must have elections," said 65-year-old voter Amnuay Aransri.

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