- By Jonathan Head
- Southeast Asia Correspondent
Voting has begun in Thailand’s general elections, with the daughter of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as the front-runner.
The elections are described as a turning point for a country that has witnessed dozens of military coups in its recent history.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief who led the last coup in 2014, is seeking another term.
But he faces a strong challenge from two anti-military sides.
Voting began on Sunday at 8:00 am (01:00 GMT) in 95,000 polling stations across the country.
About 50 million people will cast their ballots to elect the 500 members of the lower house of Parliament – and about 2 million people vote early.
Leading the race is Pheu Thai (for Thais), led by Mr. Thaksin’s daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra.
The 36-year-old harnesses her father’s vast network of patronage while sticking to the populist message that has resonated in rural, low-income parts of the country.
Mr. Thaksin, a telecom billionaire, is beloved by many low-income Thais, but not very popular with the royal elite. He was overthrown in a military coup in 2006, when opponents accused him of corruption. He denied the allegations and has since been living in exile since 2008 in London and Dubai.
“I think after eight years, people want better policies, better solutions for the country than just coups,” Ms Bytungtarn told the BBC in a recent interview.
The polls have also seen a rapid rise in Move Forward, led by Pita Limjarronrat, a 42-year-old former tech executive. Its young, progressive and ambitious candidates are campaigning on a simple but powerful message: Thailand needs change.
says Thitinan Pongsuderak, of Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Security and International Studies.
Meanwhile, Mr. Prayuth, 69, is trailing in opinion polls. He seized power from the government of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, in 2014, after months of unrest.
Thailand held elections in 2019, but results showed no clear party won a majority.
Weeks later, a pro-military party formed the government and named Mr Prayuth as its candidate for prime minister in a process the opposition said was unfair.
The following year, a controversial court ruling led to the dissolution of Future Forward, the previous iteration of Move Forward, which had performed strongly in the election thanks to the emotional support of younger voters.
This led to 6 months of mass protests calling for reform of the army and the monarchy.
With nearly 70 parties contesting this election, and many large parties, it is highly unlikely that any party will gain an outright majority of seats in the House of Representatives.
But even if a party does not win a majority, or has a majority coalition, the political system inherited by the military-drafted 2017 constitution, and an array of other non-electoral powers, can prevent him from taking office.
The constitution, which was written while Thailand was under military rule, created the appointed 250-seat Senate, which has the right to vote on the selection of the next prime minister and cabinet.
Since all senators are appointed by the coup leaders, they have always voted for the current government allied with the military, and never for the opposition.
So, technically, a party without the support of the Senate would need a supermajority of 376 out of 500 seats, which is an unattainable target.
“Lifelong food lover. Avid beeraholic. Zombie fanatic. Passionate travel practitioner.”