Thailand votes in first election since 2014 coup, marking end to military rule

Thailand votes in first election since 2014 coup, marking end to military rule

Thai election
Voting is underway in Thailand on Sunday Mar 24, 2019. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

BANGKOK: Thailand headed to the polls on Sunday (Mar 24) in its first general election since the military coup in 2014. 

Turnout was expected to be as high as 80 per cent of the 51.2 million eligible voters, the Election Commission said about an hour before the polls closed at 5pm (6pm, Singapore time).

Tens of millions of eligible voters were expected to turn up in force at polling stations nationwide, to be a part of their country's transition from military rule to democracy. 

Polls opened at 8am local time and closed at 5pm. 

READ: Thai election leaves country deeply divided, Prayut set to remain PM

The commission said that unofficial results of Thailand's first general election since 2011 would be announced from around 8.30pm.

After polling stations had closed, Reuters incorrectly reported Thai PBS TV channel announcing numbers from an exit poll, but the seat numbers for the competing parties that it aired were from the last pre-election opinion poll.

Thai PBS' figures came from research centre Super Poll.

"We apologise for our staff's miscommunication to Reuters that we conducted an exit poll," said Paweenrat Sukpongpimon, a statistician at Super Poll.

Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit from the Future Forward party were among those casting their votes on Sunday.

The pro-army Palang Pracharat party that wants to keep military government leader Prayut Chan-o-cha as prime minister also would need coalition partners, but it would have a better chance due to junta-written electoral rules that favour it. 

Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit from the Future Forward party were among those casting their votes on Sunday.

Other leading prime ministerial candidates voted in Bangkok, including Sudarat Keyuraphan from the Pheu Thai party and Abhisit Vejjajiva from the Democrat party.

Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has officially cast his vote
Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha casts his vote. (Photo: Jack Board)

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit from the Future Forward party
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit from the Future Forward party casts his vote. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

READ: A battle between three forces: Thailand’s election explained

Since the military coup in May 2014, Thailand has been riding an uncertain road back towards a democratic system. 

A new constitution, introduced in 2017, changed the electoral system in a way that critics say favours the military government. 

In the previous election in 2011, Yingluck Shinawatra led the Pheu Thai party to the win the popular vote. She became prime minister before she was ousted. 

Under the new electoral system, however, having the most number of MPs in the 500-seat House of Representatives may not be enough to win the premiership.

The constitution, drafted by a military-backed committee, empowers 250 military-backed senators to join 500 MPs in selecting the prime minister during the initial period.

READ: Numbers game: How Thailand's election system favours pro-army parties

A prospective prime minister must be approved by more than half of the combined 750-member assembly. As a result, a political party needs to garner at least 376 votes in a joint sitting - either from both the Upper and Lower Houses or only from the latter’s 500 members - in order for its candidate to win the premiership and form the government.

Compared to other parties, Palang Pracharat will have a clear and built-in advantage in this election, thanks to the 250 senators that will be selected by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and Gen Prayut himself.

It means that Palang Pracharat could be in a position to form the government - even if it wins as few as 126 of the 500 parliamentary seats up for grabs.

Prayut's candidacy is largely seen as the military’s attempt to maintain its grip on Thai politics.

The 65-year-old holds popularity among certain demographics who approve of the military’s seizure of power. They regard it as an effort to bridge the deep socio-political divisions that had brought violence to the streets during the Yingluck administration and threatened to tear the nation apart.

Yingluck and her powerful brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, are both in exile overseas but still hold great influence over large parts of the population, particularly in rural areas.

READ: From protests to polls: Power in the hands of Thailand’s youth ahead of Sunday vote

READ: Calls for change reverberate in Thailand’s restive south ahead of election

A total of 81 parties are contesting the election, and thousands of candidates will fight to represent 350 constituencies. The other 150 members of the House of Representatives will be elected from the so-called national party lists under a system of proportional representation.

This will see each party that contests the party-list election have a number of MPs in the House of Representatives, according to the share of the popular vote it secures in the contest for the 350 directly elected members.

Parties can still secure seats in parliament under this system irrespective of whether their candidates win any of the 350 contests.

Source: CNA/Agencies/jt(gs)/nc