Thai voters went to the polls on Sunday in a hotly contested election that will determine whether Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general who seized power in a coup in 2014, can are ousted by their competitors.
One observer of Thai politics called the election the most productive of his life.
Opinion polls show many voters want change, backing opposition parties that have promised to restore democratic rule in Thailand and roll back some of the authoritarian policies introduced by Mr Prayuth.
There is a widespread feeling that Mr Prayuth has done little to boost the economy after nine years in power. His harsh crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Bangkok in 2020 has also alienated many voters.
“If we end up with more or less the same kind of government we’ve had for years, there will be a lot of unhappiness in Thailand, a lot of grievances,” said Thetnan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University. Referring to the country’s economic situation
Here’s what you need to know about the elections.
Who is ahead?
Patongtern ShinawatraAccording to most opinion polls, the populist Phew Thai Party is the current front-runner for prime minister. The 36-year-old – known as “Ung Ing” in Thailand – has a daughter. Thaksin Shinawatraand much of its appeal rests on its family name.
Mr Thaksin was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 and is still remembered by many Thais for launching a $1 universal healthcare program and distributing subsidies to farmers. Since 2001, the populist political parties he founded, including Pheu Thai, have consistently won the most votes in every election.
But Mr Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon, is widely disliked by wealthy conservatives and the military. The army He was overthrown in a coup in 2006, and Mr. Thaksin fled the country. (Her sister, Yingluck Shinawatratoo met a similar fate (Eight years later, after his tenure as prime minister.) Mr Thaksin, who lives mostly in Dubai, was sentenced in absentia to 12 years on charges of corruption and abuse of power.
Ms. Petongtern’s rise has raised questions about whether she will bring her father back to Thailand, and many Thais are now bracing for a possible repeat of the instability that marked Shinawatra’s two previous administrations. was appreciated.
Ms Petongtern, who gave birth to a child on May 1 before immediately returning to the campaign trail, also faces tough competition from Progressive Move Forward Party candidate Peeta Limjarvinrat. In a recent poll, Mr Peta emerged as the top choice for prime minister.
What does the selection process look like?
The prime minister is not elected by popular vote, but by a 500-member House of Representatives and a 250-member Senate appointed by the military.
In 2019, the Senate unanimously backed Mr Prayuth and is likely to align with the military proxy candidate again. If it votes as a bloc, an opposition politician must muster a supermajority — at least 376 votes — in the lower house to lead the country.
Already, Senator Wanchai Sorensari has said that he and a group of fellow senators will “definitely not elect” Ms Petongtern as prime minister. But it is not clear who the army will choose.
Votes can be split.
A major surprise in the election was Mr Prayuth’s split from fellow Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wong Suan. Mr. Prayuth joined the United Thai Nation Party, which was formed solely to field him as a candidate in the elections. Mr. Pravit remained with Mr. Prayuth’s former party Paling Pracharath.
The populist party of the former prime minister’s daughter, Pheu Thai, has been plagued by speculation that she may join forces to form a coalition with Mr Prawit’s party. He is widely regarded as one of Thailand’s most powerful politicians and was a former army chief under Mr Thaksin.
Pheu Thai has consistently denied the rumours, but many skeptical Thais say they will vote for the Progressive Move Forward Party to prevent such an outcome.
What are the main issues?
The Move Forward Party has suggested. Amendment of a strict law prohibiting defaming, insulting or threatening the King. And after other members of the royal family in Thailand, authorities indicted more than 200 people for breaking the law during massive pro-democracy protests in Bangkok in 2020.
The punishment under the law, known as Article 112, is a minimum of three years and a maximum of 15 years. It is the only crime in Thailand that carries a minimum prison sentence.
Bread and butter issues are also at the top of voters’ minds. Thailand’s tourism-dependent economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and the country reported the slowest economic growth last year among Southeast Asia’s other major economies.
This is why almost every political party is relying on populist policies, such as cash handouts and subsidies, to woo voters.
How does the military come into play?
If history is any indication, the military, which has dominated Thai politics for decades, is unlikely to relinquish power easily.
In addition to engineering a dozen coups over the course of a century, Thai generals rewrote the constitution in 2017 to align the Senate with allies and ensure the military decides the country’s prime minister. Will get the option.
Even if Mr Prayuth loses the popular vote, he could still lead a minority government to the top job.
“While everything is very well planned, I don’t think we can be optimistic about change after this election,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubon Ratchathani University.
In 2020, the country’s constitutional court Future Forward ended the party.The previous iteration of the Move Forward Party after an unexpected third-place finish in the 2019 election. Mr Thaksin’s two previous political parties were also dissolved by military leaders. (Conservative officials have even threatened to disband the Move Forward party in this election.)
Rangset University political scientist Wanwicht Bonprong said that after the elections, parties will have to be wary of the junta’s “stealth dictatorship”. He said that it will be a big challenge for the new government. “Every step will be monitored, checked.”
Mukita Suhartono Cooperation reporting.