Voters disaffected by nine years of plodding rule by a coup-making army general are expected to deliver a strong mandate for change in Thailand's general election on May 14. But a predicted victory by the allies of Thaksin Shinawatra, whose ouster by coup 17 years ago plunged the country into prolonged instability, has caused concern for an unhindered democratic transition.
Dissatisfaction with the incumbent prime minister running for re-election, Prayuth Chan-ocha, is high, due in part to a slumping economy and his government's mismanaged response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thailand is holding an election nearly after a decade of a government led or backed by its royalist military after a coup in 2014, Reuters reported.
The power struggle between Thaksin's supporters and his opponents has been fought sometimes in the street, sometimes at the ballot box for almost two decades.
Prayuth is trailing badly in opinion polls behind Thaksin's 36-year-old daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, who inherited the popularity and political style of her father. She campaigned intensively while heavily pregnant and gave birth to a son last week. She is the favourite among the opposition Pheu Thai Party's three registered nominees for prime minister. Her party looks set to win a majority of seats in the lower house of Parliament.
Pheu Thai largely shares Move Forward's reformist agenda, but the smaller party's more forthright stand poses a dilemma. Move Forward could bring in youth voters. Adding Move Forward to a coalition government could antagonise the Senate, a conservative body whose support is crucial to taking power.
Then there is incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of the newly formed United Thai Nation party, and Palang Pracharat party led by mentor Prawit Wongsuwan. Both parties draw backing from the urban middle classes and are regarded as representing the interests of Thailand's nexus of old-money aristocrats and military elites who have long influenced politics, a Reuters report reads. An important contender is Bhumjaithai, a regional heavyweight whose stature has grown after it successfully moved to make Thailand Asia's first country to legalise the sale of cannabis.
For Pheu Thai, the party controlled by Thaksin Shinawatra, this election seems to be a now-or-never kind of situation. The party largely has power among the rural poor, its long-standing anti-military stance makes it a popular force to reckon with. Thaksin is however 74, which means if Phue Thai doesn't get a majority, it could mean the end of the line for him. Thaksin tweeted Tuesday that he plans to return to Thailand by his 26 July birthday, saying he is ready to face justice in numerous corruption cases against him, AFP reported.
Close to 80 per cent of Thailand's population-- 52 out of 65 million is eligible to vote. The voters will have two ballots-- one for a local constituency representative and the other for their preferred party on a national level.
Thailand's 2017 constitution, adopted under military rule, calls for the prime minister to be selected by a joint vote of the 500-member House and the unelected 250-seat Senate, whose members were appointed by Prayuth's junta. Parties that win over 25 seats can choose a prime ministerial candidate. These candidates will then be put to vote by the freshly elected members of the house. To become prime minister, the winning candidate must have the votes of over 50 per cent of the combined houses or at least 375 members.
--With PTI inputs