BANGKOK: Thai voters went to the polls on Sunday in an election billed as a watershed moment for change, eight years after current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha took power in a 2014 coup. He is now running against the daughter of the military’s main adversary, a politician.
The opposition Pheu Thai Party, led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, is widely expected to gain a majority of seats in the 500-member lower House.

However, who leads the future administration will not be determined solely by Sunday’s vote. The Prime Minister will be chosen in July by a joint session of the House and the Senate, which has a total of 250 seats. The winner must receive at least 376 votes, which no single party is likely to achieve.

Pheu Thai won the most seats in the 2019 election, but its challenger, the military-backed Palang Pracharath Party, was able to form a government with Prayuth as prime minister. It was supported unanimously by the Senate, whose members reflect the military’s conservative stance and were nominated by the military government following Prayuth’s takeover.

Prayuth is seeking for reelection, but the military has split its support this year between two parties. Prayuth is supported by the United Thai Nation Party, while his deputy prime minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, a former general, is the Palang Pracharath candidate.

Prayuth has been accused for a faltering economy, failures in combating the pandemic, and stifling political reforms, which are particularly vexing among younger people.
“The increased youth vote and general awareness of the damage caused by military rule are key factors that will likely determine the results of this election,” said Tyrell Haberkorn, a Thai studies specialist at the University of Wisconsin. “After nine years of military rule, people are ready for a change, even those who were not interested in rocking the boat before.”

Pheu Thai is the newest in a long line of parties associated with populist billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed as prime minister in a 2006 army coup. His daughter is Paetongtarn Shinawatra. Her aunt, Yingluck Shinawatra, was deposed as prime minister in 2011 in a coup led by Prayuth.

In the opinion surveys, Pheu Thai and Paetongtarn, the most popular of the party’s three registered candidates for prime minister, are far ahead of the competition. However, there is no indication that the country’s military-backed conservative establishment has softened toward them.
“I believe the conservative-royalist side, which supports the military and the monarchy, has their backs against the wall.” Change is coming, and they must prepare,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

That means Pheu Thai will have to tread carefully in selecting potential coalition partners following the election on Sunday.

The Move Forward Party comes in second in the polls and is its ideological partner in the effort to clip the military’s wings. However, its vocal support for minor monarchy reforms is unpalatable to most conservatives who see the institution as sacred, and it scares off other potential coalition partners.

Many feel that Pheu Thai would hunt for a partner in the Palang Pracharath Party and its leader, Prawit, who is less identified with the 2014 coup and the hardline Prayuth has pursued.



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