BANGKOK: Thais waited in the hot heat outside temples, shopping malls, and schools on Sunday to cast their early ballots for a much-anticipated election next week.
More than 2 million Thais have registered to vote early ahead of the May 14 election, which is shaping up to be a showdown between army-backed establishment parties and rising opposition movements.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha, who seized power in a 2014 coup before consolidating power in a contentious 2019 election, has been languishing in opinion polls, with voters choosing old-school opposition parties Pheu Thai and the more radical Move Forward parties.
However, with the election system highly tilted in favor of army-backed parties, challengers must win by a landslide if they are to establish the next administration.
“I hope this election will change the country for the better,” shopping center worker Srisuda Wongsa-ad, 28, said after voting.
She was one of hundreds of people queued quietly at a polling station in Bangkok’s affluent Ekkamai area to vote at the Wat That Thong temple, which is guarded by golden standing buddhas.
“I’m voting for a candidate and a party that I like and that can meet my needs,” she explained, adding that she was voting early since it was more convenient for her.
Elsewhere in the capital, the Royal Paragon Hall shopping complex was filled with voters, albeit cooler ones, who were taking use of the facility’s air conditioning.
Despite the early hour, temperatures in Bangkok, which, like all of Thailand, was hammered by a brutal April heatwave, were increasing and predicted to reach 39 degrees Celsius later Sunday.
As the day’s heat climbed, machines sprayed a fine mist of water over orderly crowds outside one of Bangkok’s largest polling stations, Ramkhamhaeng University.
However, throngs were still present, with gridlock and congestion near packed polling places.
“I am quite excited,” said Pasawee Sriarunothai, 20, a first-time voter who will not be in Bangkok on May 14.
“I decided to cast my vote based on the party’s policies, and I hope that this election will bring the country a better future,” Pasawee added.
“I want the next generation to lead the country.” “I want to try something new,” Nantthapon Phomput, 28, said before casting his vote at Wat That Thong.
Opposition party Pheu Thai has put forward Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of exiled former leader and billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, as a prime ministerial candidate.
While Pheu Thai maintains its advantage, Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the rival opposition Move Forward party, has surpassed Paetongtarn as the favourite PM candidate of questioned respondents.
Authorities expected a significant number of early voters.
Police told local media on Saturday that roughly 3,000 security officers will be on duty around the capital, and warned of increased traffic congestion near polling stations.
An additional 100,000 Thais living abroad will vote early, with some already doing so.
This election is open to more than 52 million citizens.