Nearly five years after a coup, Thailand yesterday voted in a long-delayed election pitting a military-backed party against the populist political force the generals overthrew.
An opinion survey taken in the days before the election, and released after voting closed, indicated that the governing party ousted in the 2014 coup would win the most parliamentary seats, but not enough to govern alone.
A military-backed party would win the second-highest number of seats, the Suan Dusit survey found.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup, is hoping to extend his hold on power after engineering a new political system that aims to stifle the influence of big political parties not aligned with the military.
Voting stations closed at 5pm and meaningful results were expected within several hours, but the formation of a new government, likely to be unstable and short-lived, could take weeks of haggling.
About 51 million Thais were eligible to vote. Leaders of political parties opposed to military rule urged a high turnout as the only way to derail Prayuth’s plans.
Prayuth was among the first to vote in Bangkok, arriving in a black Mercedes after polling booths opened at 8am.
“I hope everyone helps each other by going to vote today as it’s everyone’s right,” he told reporters after voting.
He played golf later in the morning before heading to an army base to await results.
The election is the latest chapter in a nearly two-decade struggle between conservative forces including the military and the political machine of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon who upended tradition-bound Thailand’s politics with a populist political revolution.
Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup and now lives in exile abroad to avoid a prison term, but parties allied with him have won every election since 2001.
His sister, former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who led the government that was ousted in 2014, also fled the country after what supporters said was a politically motivated corruption prosecution.
Just days before yesterday’s election, the Thaksin-allied Pheu Thai party said the houses of party officials and its campaign canvassers in some provinces were searched by military personnel in an act of intimidation.
The party’s leader, Sudarat Keyuraphan, said after voting in Bangkok’s Ladprao District that she was confident of winning.
“I don’t say it’ll be a landslide. I don’t know. Depends on the people, but I think we can win this election,” she said.
First-time voter Napasapan Wongchotipan said she hopes for positive changes after the election.
“I have no idea what the results will be like,” she said. “But I do wish that the party that we will get, the party that wins the votes, will come in and improve our country.”
Thais were voting for a 500-seat parliament that along with a 250-member junta-appointed Senate will decide the country’s next prime minister.
That setup means a military-backed figure such as Prayuth could become leader even while lacking a majority in parliament.
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