Thailand’s two major opposition parties dominate Sunday’s national election, with Voters reject almost a decade of military-backed government.
But in a kingdom where coups and court orders often trump the ballot box, fears remain that the military could hang on, sparking new instability.
the result of the election campaign was A young generation eager for change and the conservative royalist establishment represented by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the former army chief who seized power in a 2014 coup.
The reformist Progressive Party (MFP) received nearly 8.4 million votes after counting votes from three-quarters of the polling stations, followed by Pheu Thai with 6.9 million.
Prayuth’s National Unity Party ranks third with 2.8 million seats, though it is unclear how the popular vote will translate into parliamentary seats.
MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat said his party could take 160 of the 500 seats in the lower house, declaring the result “closes off” any chance for the military-backed party to form a minority government.
Peeta told reporters that the MFP will seek to negotiate with Pheu Thai and that a joint agreement is “certainly possible.”
Pheu Thai leader Paetongtarn Shinawatra congratulated the MFP on its success, saying “we can work together”.
“We’re ready to talk to Move Forward, but we’re waiting for the official results,” she said.
Pheu Thai, the political party of billionaire former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, now led by his daughter Paetongtarn, had urged voters to overwhelmingly free them from the threat of military intervention.
The electoral commission is not expected to formally confirm the final number of seats won by each party for weeks.
But the MFP and Pheu Thai may still face a struggle to secure power without an overwhelming majority due to the 2017 constitution enacted by the junta.
The new prime minister will be chosen jointly by Prayut’s junta-appointed 500 elected MPs and 250 members of the Senate – stacking up the decks in favor of the military’s support.
In the contentious last election in 2019, Prayut was backed by the Senate to become prime minister, leading a complex multiparty coalition.
Adding to the uncertainty, there are already rumors that the MFP may be disbanded by court order — the same fate that befell its predecessor Future Forward, which performed surprisingly well in the 2019 polls.
The election is the first since youth-led pro-democracy protests erupted across Bangkok in 2020 demanding limits on the powers and spending of Thailand’s king – a long-standing taboo against questioning the monarchy.
The demonstrations died down as Covid-19 restrictions were imposed and dozens of leaders were arrested, but their energy has fueled growing support for the more radical opposition MFP.
Arriving to vote in Bangkok, Pita, 42, said he expected a “historic turnout”.
“The younger generation now cares about their rights and they will come out and vote,” he told reporters.
While the MFP seeks support from millennial and Gen Z voters — who make up nearly half of its 52 million voters — Pheu Pheu has leveraged its traditional base in the rural north-east, where voters still appreciate Thaksin in the early 2000s.
A sombre Prayuth thanked voters for their support as he left party headquarters after the results came in.
“Whatever the outcome, I will continue to do my best,” he told reporters.
The former general has launched an unabashedly nationalistic pitch to older voters, portraying himself as the only candidate capable of saving Thailand from chaos and destruction.
But he has underperformed in the polls and has been blamed for a sluggish economy and a lackluster recovery from the pandemic, which has hammered the country’s vital tourism industry.
Human rights groups have accused Prayuth of overseeing a major crackdown on fundamental freedoms, and the number of prosecutions has surged under Thailand’s tough royal defamation laws.
The country has endured more than a dozen coups over the past century and has been caught in a rolling cycle of street protests, coups and court orders disbanding political parties over the past two decades.
A bitter feud between the Shinawatra family and the royalist-military establishment has been at the center of the drama, with Thaksin ousted in a 2006 coup and his sister Yingluck Prayut in 2014.
An unclear or contested outcome this time could lead to a new round of demonstrations and instability.