Thailand elections Elections begin with Thaksins daughter as front runner

Thailand elections: Elections begin with Thaksin’s daughter as front runner – BBC

  • By Jonathan Head
  • Correspondent for Southeast Asia

May 14, 2023 at 02:00 BST

Updated 1 hour ago

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Voting begins at an outdoor polling station in Bangkok

Voting has started in Thailand’s general election, in which the daughter of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is the front runner.

The election is described as a turning point for a country that has seen a dozen military coups in its recent history.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, the army general who led the last coup in 2014, is seeking another term.

However, he faces a strong challenge from two anti-military factions.

Sunday’s voting began at 8:00 a.m. (01:00 GMT) at the 95,000 polling stations across the country.

Around 50 million people will cast their vote to elect 500 members of the lower house of parliament – and around two million people voted early.

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Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha cast his ballot in Bangkok early Sunday

Leading the race is Pheu Thai (For Thais), led by Mr Thaksin’s daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra.

The 36-year-old is tapping into her father’s broad network of patronage while also sticking to the populist message that has resonated in low-income rural areas of the country.

Mr Thaksin, a telecoms billionaire, is loved by many low-income Thais but is deeply unpopular with the royalist elite. He was overthrown in a military coup in 2006 when his opponents accused him of corruption. He denied the allegations and has lived in exile in London and Dubai since 2008.

“I think after eight years people want better policies, better solutions for the country than just coups,” Ms Paetongtarn said in a recent BBC interview.

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The Pheu Thai Party’s prime ministerial candidate, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, is the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra

Move Forward, led by Pita Limjaroenrat, a 42-year-old former tech executive, has also been rising fast in opinion polls. Its young, progressive and ambitious candidates campaigned with a simple but powerful message: Thailand needs to change.

“And the change really isn’t about another coup. Because that’s a step backwards. It’s about reforming the military, the monarchy, for a democratic future with better economic performance,” says Thitinan Pongsudhirak of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.

Meanwhile, Mr Prayut, 69, is behind in opinion polls. After months of unrest, he took power from Mr Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government in 2014.

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Move Forward leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat poses for a photo with his supporters after voting

Thailand held elections in 2019, but the results showed that no clear party had won a majority.

Weeks later, a pro-military party formed the government and nominated Mr Prayut as their prime ministerial candidate – a process the opposition called unfair.

The following year, a controversial court ruling quashed Future Forward, the previous version of Move Forward, which had performed strongly in the election thanks to passionate support from younger voters.

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Thailand’s conservative, military-backed government is expected to face a strong challenge from the pro-democracy opposition

This sparked six months of mass protests demanding reform of the military and monarchy.

With almost 70 parties taking part in this election, including several major ones, it is unlikely that any party will win an absolute majority of seats in the lower house.

But even if a party doesn’t win a majority or has formed a majority coalition, the political system bequeathed by the military-drafted 2017 constitution and a host of other non-electoral authorities can prevent them from taking office.

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Two men dressed as Spiderman provided entertainment while people cast their votes

The constitution, written during Thailand’s military rule, provided for an appointed 250-seat Senate to vote on choosing the next prime minister and government.

Since the senators were all appointed by the coup plotters, they have always voted for the current military-allied government and never for the opposition.

Technically, without Senate support, any party would need a supermajority of 376 out of the 500 seats, an unattainable goal.