Billionaires, generals, democrats: A guide to Thailand’s election

Billionaires, generals, democrats: A guide to Thailand’s election

BANGKOK, THAILAND — Thailand goes to the polls on Sunday in a clash pitching military generals clinging to power against a younger resurgent opposition movement calling for change.

Here’s what you need to know about the election:

Who are the main players?

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha, who first came to power in a 2014 coup, is running for the newly created United Thai Nation (UTN) Party, while his former ally and fellow ex-general Prawit Wongsuwan heads the army-backed Palang Pracharath (PPRP).

Opposing them are the Pheu Thai party, fielding three PM candidates led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra — daughter of exiled former leader and billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra — and the youth-led Move Forward Party (MPF), headed by Pita Limjaroenrat.

How does the election work?

There are 500 seats for MPs in Thailand’s lower house, with 400 chosen directly by voters for constituency seats while 100 are elected by proportional representation.

The Election Commission has two months from polling day to formally ratify the election outcome — though preliminary results may be announced on the night of the vote.

What about the PM?

A candidate will be voted on by both the 500 elected lower house MPs and the Senate — which is composed of 250 individuals appointed by the military.

Parties must have at least 25 seats to nominate a candidate, who needs 376 votes across the two houses to become PM.

This vote will take place sometime after the election, most likely in early August, and can include individuals who have not stood as MPs — such as Prayut, or Pheu Thai candidates Paetongtarn and Srettha Thavisin.

Army-backed = better odds?

The current set-up, put in place under a military-scripted 2017 constitution, favours establishment or army-approved candidates.

It effectively means they need to muster only 126 seats in the lower house.

What that boils down to is that coalitions are vital.

Human Rights Watch has labelled this system “structurally flawed”.

What coalitions are likely?

Coalitions have a long history in the kingdom — more than a dozen parties were in the last government.

The negotiations are expected to be lengthy and the horse trading extensive.

Barring a landslide victory, the leading opposition party Pheu Thai must find allies. Rumours have swirled over potential alliances, but leaders have remained close-lipped on who they are willing to work with.

On the other side, PPRP and UTN may be looking to prop up their dismal pollings — and there has been speculation over a potential PPRP and Pheu Thai alliance.

Could there be another coup?

Since 1932 the kingdom has had 12 successful coups, the last in 2014 under Prayut — although he has said: “coups must not be repeated”.

Chulalongkorn University academic Alexandre Barthel said history might end up repeating itself.

Both the 2006 and 2014 coups were preceded by Pheu Thai victories.

“If Pheu Thai wins a majority, the army may intervene again. Not necessarily immediately, but one, two or three years later,” Barthel said.

Similarly, some parties may face dissolution as happened in 2020 following the 2019 election.

Move Forward’s predecessor Future Forward was dissolved, leading to massive demonstrations.

— AFP

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