Thai voters voted on Sunday in a landslide election that will determine whether Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power in a coup in 2014, fends off his rivals.
One observer of Thai politics described the election as the most consequential in his lifetime.
Opinion polls show many voters want change, supporting 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.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said, “If we end up with more or less the same kind of government we’ve had for years, there will be a lot of sadness, a lot of grievances in Thailand.” Citing the economic stability of the country.
Here’s what you need to know about the election.
Who is the front-runner?
pationgtaran shinawatraAccording to most opinion polls, the populist Pheu Thai Party is currently the frontrunner for prime minister. The 36-year-old – known in Thailand as “Ung Eng” – is the daughter of Thaksin ShinawatraAnd much of her appeal rests on her family name.
Mr. Thaksin was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 and is still fondly remembered by many Thais for launching a $1 universal health care program and distributing subsidies to farmers. Since 2001, the populist political parties he founded, including Phu 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. Army overthrew him in a coup In 2006, Mr. Thaksin fled the country. (his sister, Yingluck ShinawatraToo met a similar fate Eight years later, after his term as prime minister.) Mr. Thaksin, who lives mostly in Dubai, was sentenced in absentia to 12 years for corruption and abuse of power.
Ms Patongtorn’s rise has fueled 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 defined the last two Shinawatra administrations.
Ms Patongtorn, who gave birth to a baby boy on May 1 and immediately returned to campaigning, also faces tough competition from Pita Limjaroenrat, the candidate of the progressive Move Forward party. In a recent poll, Mr. Pita emerged as the top choice for Prime Minister.
What does the electoral process look like?
The prime minister is not selected through popular vote, but by the 500-member House of Representatives and the 250-member military-appointed Senate.
In 2019, the Senate unanimously endorsed Prayuth and is again likely to align itself with a military proxy candidate. If it votes as a bloc, an opposition politician would need to cobble together a supermajority – at least 376 votes – in the lower house to lead the country.
Senator Wanchai Sornsiri has already said he and a group of fellow senators would “definitely” not elect Ms Patongtorn as prime minister. But it is not clear who exactly the army will choose.
Votes can be divided.
A big surprise in this election was Mr. Prayuth’s split from his running mate, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan. Mr. Prayuth joined the United Thai Nation party, which was founded only to field him as a candidate in the elections. Mr Pravit stayed with Palang Pracharath, Mr Prayuth’s former party.
Pheu Thai, the populist party of the former prime minister’s daughter, is surrounded by speculation that it could form an alliance with Mr Prawit’s party to form a coalition. He is widely regarded as one of Thailand’s most powerful politicians and was the previous army chief under Mr. Thaksin.
Phieu Thai has consistently denied these 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?
Move Forward Party has proposed Amending a strict law that forbade defaming, insulting or threatening the king And other members of the royal family in Thailand after authorities charged more than 200 people for violating the law during a massive pro-democracy protest in Bangkok in 2020.
Punishment under the law, known as Section 112, carries a minimum sentence of three years and a maximum of 15 years. It is the only crime in Thailand that carries a minimum prison sentence.
The issue of livelihood is also at the forefront of the voters’ mind. Thailand’s tourism-dependent economy was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and the country posted the slowest economic growth last year among Southeast Asia’s other major economies.
This is the reason why almost every political party is relying on populist policies, such as cash distribution and subsidies, to woo voters.
How does the army come into play?
If history is any indicator, the military that has dominated Thai politics for decades is unlikely to give up power easily.
In addition to engineering a dozen coups within a century, Thai generals rewrote the constitution in 2017 to stack the Senate with allies and ensure that the military had the power to determine the country’s prime minister. Will be
Even if Mr Prayuth loses the popular vote, he could still hold on to the top post, leading a minority government.
“When everything is so well planned, I don’t think we can be optimistic about change after this election,” said Titipol Fakdivanich, a political scientist at Ubon Ratchathani University.
In 2020, the country’s constitutional court Future Forward Party dissolvedThe previous iteration of the Move Forward Party, after unexpectedly finishing third in the 2019 elections. Mr. Thaksin’s previous two political parties were also disbanded by military leaders. (Conservative officials have also threatened to disband the Move Forward party in this election.)
Wanwichit Boonprong, a political scientist at Rangsit University, said that parties need to beware of the junta’s “stealth authoritarianism” after the election. He said, ‘This will be a big challenge for the new government. “Every step will be monitored, scrutinized.”
Muktita Suhartono Contributed reporting.