Thailandâ€™s most recent general election took place in July 2011 and swept the populist Puea Thai Party to a majority of 265 seats in the 500-member parliament. Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of the controversial ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, became Thailandâ€™s first female prime minister. Although the elections were free and fair for the most part, some instances of vote buying, smearing of rival candidates, and threatening of law enforcement agencies were reported. In theory, the Thai Constitution provides for universal suffrage. In practice, however, there are exceptions. Buddhist monks, for example, cannot cast a ballot. Members of certain ethnic minorities, such as the hill-tribes in northern Thailand, are also deprived of their right to vote as they are
not acknowledged as Thai citizens. In addition, the 2007 Constitution introduced the undemocratic provision of an only half-elected Senate, with the other half of which to be appointed by a special committee. The right to stand for election is also constrained. With some exceptions, only citizens with a bachelorâ€™s degree or higher may contest an election, which effectively excludes about 95% of the population from running for political office. Political pluralism and participation in Thailand are largely unrestricted. A host of NGOs address the interests of various groups including farmers, women, students and workers. However, reports suggest that NGOs working on sensitive political subjects are not free from harassment.