Thai opposition far ahead in general elections
(Update 1: Adds info re vote count)
Bangkok, May 15 (EFE).- The combined Thai opposition appears to have achieved an overwhelming win in the popular vote and thus in parliament in Sunday’s elections here with more than 80 percent of the votes counted, a result that – if confirmed in the final vote tally and the all-important prime ministerial election – could end almost a decade of military rule.
The young Move Forward party, which has pushed an ambitious reform agenda, is ahead with a plurality of more than 10 million votes and 150 seats in parliament, while Pheu Thai, linked to the powerful Shinawatra clan, is in second place with more than 8 million votes and 143 seats in the national legislature, according to media projections.
Running far behind in fifth place – behind the Bhumjaithai and Palang Pracharath parties – is the United Thai Nation party headed by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, an army general who staged the 2014 coup, with 3.5 million votes and 38 parliamentary seats.
So far, no party has won an absolute majority and expectations are that the vote count – including the split of seats in parliament – will be finalized on Monday morning.
Participating in the prime ministerial election are the 500 lawmakers in the lower house of parliament elected at the polls and the 250 senators selected by the military junta that governed from 2014-2019, a situation that complicates the formation of a government.
It would not be easy for any single party, or even an opposition coalition, to get the 376 seats required to form a government because the military-drafted constitution allows the 250 junta-handpicked senators to vote in the election of the prime minister.
These elections have been viewed as a chance to consolidate democracy in Thailand and leave behind almost a decade of rule by Prayuth, who came to power in 2014 via a coup d’etat and in 2019 managed to win general elections that were seen as having little transparency.
Move Forward, headed by its candidate for prime minister, Pita Limjaroenrat, has been the big surprise on election day by garnering more votes than anticipated, according to voter surveys. The party has pushed an ambitious reform program, including a change to the controversial law punishing criticism of the monarchy and ending obligatory military service.
At a press conference at party headquarters, Pita thanked voters for their support and said that the party is ready to form a majority coalition government with Pheu Thai.
An atmosphere of happiness and joy prevailed at the party HQ in Bangkok, where hundreds of people – most of them young adults – gathered to follow the election returns.
Among the voters there was Jomjan Khangkhan, 58, who said that Move Forward would define the country’s future and that he voted for the party because it is the only political group that listened to the demands of the people.
“This is the future of the youngest generation. I’m voting for them. I want the young people to graduate and have work, have a better future and better well-being,” he told EFE.
The dissolution in 2020 of Move Forward’s predecessor party, Future Forward, was one of the actions that sparked the pro-democratic protests headed at the time by students, who broke a taboo by proposing reforming Thailand’s monarchy and taking debate on that and other mattes into the public sphere.
One of the key figures in Pheu Thai has been Paethongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a former police colonel and wealthy businessman who has significant popular support in the country’s rural north and northeast.
The political groups linked to the Shinawatra have won all Thailand’s parliamentary elections since 2001 but have been removed from power by military coups in 2006 and 2014.
Thailand has suffered 13 coups since the absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932, and it has a strict law of lese-majeste that punishes offenses against the royal family with prison terms of up to 15 years.
Some 52 million Thai citizens were eligible to vote in the highly divisive general election.