An anti-military party (Pheu Thai) that is the single largest in the Thai lower house (according to partial results announced by the Election Commission), but short of a majority and a party (Palang Pracha Rath) linked to the military with current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha as its candidate, which has the decks loaded in its favour. That about sums up a confusing initial picture of results in Thailand’s first elections since the military took power in a 2014 coup (its 12th since 1932).
The Pheu Thai and Palang Pracha Rath (PPRP) parties are already justifying the unofficial results to claim the lead in forming a coalition government. The EC initially said the pro-military PPRP was leading the popular vote on Sunday night. Then it delayed a full announcement and on Monday evening said Pheu Thai will have 135 MPs and the PPRP 117 out of the 350 directly elected seats in the lower House (with 95 per cent of votes counted).
Addressing a press conference, Pheu Thai’s chief and Prime Ministerial candidate Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan said her party will approach others which also oppose the continuing of the junta’s rule over the country. Though the PPRP, with current PM Chan-o-cha as its only candidate, is second in constituency seats, it has 7.9 million against 7.4 million of the total votes cast. Winning the popular vote, the party says justifies approaching other parties to join in a coalition. The Bhumjaithai Party, with 51 seats is a key party and hasn’t committed itself either way. The jockeying between the two rival parties is based on partial results for only 350 of the 500 MPs in the lower house. A complicated system of proportional representation will allot the other 150 seats to parties. The EC says it will declare those results only by Friday (March 29) and has till May 9 to announce the final results, which raises the likelihood of horse-trading. 250 Senators appointed by General Prayuth to the Upper House though will grant him the majority he needed to win another term. But, it’s the lower house that passes legislation which raises questions on how whoever is the next PM will be able to govern.
The Thai military introduced a new constitution in 2017 which analysts say is designed to keep pro-junta forces in power. Thailand’s electorate only votes for the 500-seat lower house of parliament. The members of the 250-seat upper house are appointed by the military. But it’s the combined votes from both houses that will select the future prime minister. So, the current Prime Minister could stay in power even without a lower house majority.
The vote has been seen primarily as a contest between pro-military parties and allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The Pheu Thai party is unofficially aligned to him. Shinawatra was ousted in a coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile to avoid being convicted for abuse of power. His sister Yingluck Shinawatra was ousted in the 2014 coup and both are forbidden from direct involvement in the elections. Hitting out at the establishment, Thaksin Shinawatra told journalists in Hong Kong that the elections were rigged and the international community should take a deeper look at the conduct of polls as well as the manipulation of results. He also warned that voters would react to a ‘stolen election’ and ‘all options are open for pro-democracy parties.
Critics have been pointing out that in many constituencies the number of ballots seems to be more than the number of voters. They also point out that an extremely large number, possibly nearly 1.9 million votes, have been invalidated.
The wedding of ex-PM Shinawatra’s daughter in Hong Kong, days before the elections, drew among others Thailand’s Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, who was put forward in February as a candidate for Prime Minister by the Thai Raksa Chart party. The move was struck down soon after her brother, King Maha Vajiralonkorn (Rama X) issued a statement and then when the EC barred the party.
A statement by the King (who will be coronated in May 2019) gave the pro-military PPRP a ‘big last-minute boost’, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn university told SNI. He said, ‘The Palace statement citing the popular late King’s words from 1969 about choosing good people to run Thailand’ helped the PPRP get more votes than expected.’ Adding, “The Thaksin gambit of inviting Princess Ubolratana to his daughter’s wedding in Hong Kong just hours before the vote also galvanised his opponents to support Prayut as the only candidate who can keep Thaksin at bay.”
One of the stars of Sunday’s election was the newly formed Future Forward Party (FFP), which received 5.3 million votes at the last count and a projected 80 seats in the lower house making it Thailand’s third biggest party. It shares the Pheu Thai’s explicit aim to end the military’s power. FFP has become extremely popular with many of the country’s 7 million first-time voters through its comparatively progressive policies, savvy social media campaigning and billionaire leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak took note of the party’s progress adding, “The Future Forward party’s strong showing also suggests that many voters, especially among the younger generation who don’t want to squander their future to entrenched political divisiveness, want to have an alternative away from both Thaksin and Prayut. These voices could form a basis for Thailand’s way forward headed by younger leaders.”