BANGKOK: Tens of millions of Thais turned up at polling booths across the country on Sunday (Mar 24) to cast their votes and elect a new government, but Thailand's first election in eight years had no clear result a day after polls closed.
Preliminary results were announced on Monday (Mar 25), but it could be weeks before the make-up of parliament becomes clear.
And doubts were raised about the accuracy of the results after pro-military Palang Pracharat took a surprise lead in the popular vote count, suggesting the country's current prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha could remain in power.
Here's why it could take a while before the dust settles on the poll outcome.
WHAT IS THE PRELIMINARY RESULT?
ฺBased on the unofficial results, Pheu Thai has the highest number of members of parliament (MPs) from 350 constituencies:
- Pheu Thai - 137
- Palang Pracharat - 97
- Bhumjaithai Party - 39
- Democrat Party - 33
- Future Forward Party - 30
- Prachachart Party - 7
- Chartthai Pattana Party - 6
- Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai Party - 1
However, not all seats are directly elected.
An additional 150 "party list" seats in the 500-seat lower house will be allocated under a complex proportional representation formula.
Another 250 seats in the upper house Senate are entirely appointed by the ruling government.
Two parties have claimed victory - for now.
Pheu Thai leader and prime minister candidate Sudarat Keyuraphan said it will try to form a government with similar-minded parties.
Similarly, a Palang Pracharat spokesman told reporters the party expects to gather 251 seats in the House of Representatives to form a government.
HOW THAILAND'S SENATE WORKS
Under the previous constitution, the Senate was only partially appointed.
The Senate will for the first time since 1978 vote, along with the 500-seat House of Representatives, choose the new prime minister and government. Previously, only members of the lower house voted for prime minister.
The magic number of seats parties or alliances needed to secure to form a government is 376, which is 50 per cent plus one of the total number in the two houses of parliament.
With the military choosing all Senate members, including seats reserved for six heads of different armed forces branches, pro-military parties would likely need only 126 seats in the House of Representatives to win a majority in a combined vote.
Anti-military parties, on the other hand, which cannot count on any Senate votes, would need to win 376 lower house seats to gain a majority.
READ: Timeline - Thailand's turbulent political history
THE FORMULA FOR PARTY SEATS
Party seats are allocated under a complicated system that big parties like Pheu Thai say is disadvantageous for them.
The system that “caps” the total number of seats any one party can gain, based on their percentage of total votes cast nationwide.
The “value” of one seat in the House of Representatives is based on a formula that takes the total number of votes cast and divides it by the 500 seats.
The proportional representation approach is a change from previous elections, when people would cast two votes: One for directly elected MPs, and one for party-list candidates.
A party cannot win more seats than it has “earned” in total votes nationwide. And if a party has already reached or is close to its cap in constituency seats, then it cannot get any more party seats than that cap allows.
If a party wins more constituency seats than its cap, then it keeps those seats but cannot be awarded any party seats even if it was the top vote-getter.
The system leaves a bigger pie of party seats for smaller parties to divide up. This will likely result in numerous smaller parties that normally would not have won any seats, awarded one or more party seats.
READ: Messy days ahead as Thai factions jostle to lead next government
With 94 per cent of overall votes counted, the Election Commission reported that Palang Pracharat was leading with 7.69 million votes. Pheu Thai trailed with 7.23 million votes.
Because Pheu Thai already has 137 constituency seats, it may well have exceeded its seats "cap" and therefore will be unlikely to get any party seats.
But Palang Pracharat has only 97 constituency seats, and since it was also leading the national popular vote, it is likely to gain 15-25 more party seats.
Adding the seats together would put Palang Pracharat very close to the 126 seats it needs to vote Prayut in as prime minister.
CHOOSING PRIME MINISTER
A party must have at least 25 seats in the House of Representatives to nominate a candidate for prime minister.
After that, it will take the support of 376 out of 750 members of the combined houses to become prime minister.
Because the military will have already chosen all 250 seats of the Senate, Palang Pracharat needs to gain only 126 more votes in the lower house. That is a huge advantage, though not a guarantee.
If no coalition can agree on the prime minister, the new constitution also allows for an “outside” prime minister who is not an MP.
OTHER PARTIES JOSTLING FOR POWER
Both Palang Pracharat and Pheu Thai could seek support from Anutin Charnvirakul's third-placed Bhumjaithai Party (Proud to Be Thai) to cobble together a majority of parliamentary seats needed to form a coalition government.
The Bhumjaithai Party won 39 of 350 lower house seats already decided.
Anutin, a billionaire politician, campaigned on a promise to legalise marijuana, backs a four-day work week and wants to legalise ride-hailing.
Many thought the Democrat Party would hold the balance of power but it has done worse in the election than expected with 33 seats.
Its leader, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, announced his resignation within five hours of the polls closing.
Future Forward Party
Future Forward, a new party, appears to have made a spectacular election debut, winning 30 seats thanks to its appeal to young voters.
Led by telegenic billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, it took more than 5 million votes and is a potential Pheu Thai ally.