BANGKOK: Former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva stepped down as leader of the Democrat Party after its poor showing in a Sunday (Mar 24) general election.
Thailand's oldest political party was in fourth place in the popular vote, with a little more that three million votes, according to partial results released by the Election Commission.
"I must take responsibility for this. I resign from my leadership of the Democrat Party," said Abhisit, who was prime minister from 2008 to 2011.
The results showed a pro-military party slightly ahead of the populist party leading a "democratic front", an unexpected and - for many - stunning outcome from the country's first poll since a 2014 army coup.
With 93 per cent of overall votes counted, the Election Commission reported the pro-military party Palang Pracharat, which is seeking to keep junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha in power, was leading with 7.59 million votes.
Trailing with 7.12 million votes was Pheu Thai, a party linked to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose loyalists have won every election since 2001.
The numbers were for the popular vote, but these did not reflect parliamentary constituency seats that would ultimately be won. Pheu Thai could still win the lion's share of these because of its concentrated popularity in the north and northeast of the country.
Nevertheless, there was dismay among many voters who had hoped that the poll would loosen the grip on power that traditional elites and the military have held in a country that has one of the highest measures of inequality in the world.
At Pheu Thai's headquarters in Bangkok, the mood fluctuated from cheerful to quiet disbelief.
"I didn't think this is likely. I don't think this is what the people wanted," said Pheu Thai supporter Polnotcha Chakphet.
A #PrayforThailand hashtag started trending on Twitter as the results trickled out, and some people tweeted that they would leave the country if Prayuth was returned to power to remain prime minister.
The Election Commission chairman said unofficial results would be announced on Monday afternoon. The commission said turnout was 66 per cent, based on 90 per cent of the vote counted.