Vote counting began in Thailand’s general election on Sunday, with pro-democracy opposition parties expected to unseat Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s conservative military-backed administration after almost a decade in office.
After a campaign that portrayed a battle between a new generation hungry for change and the conventional, royalist elite, opinion polls predicted a landslide defeat for ex-army chief and coup leader Prayut.
In final opinion polls, the main opposition Pheu Thai party, led by the daughter of wealthy former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, was ahead.
However, in a kingdom where electoral triumph has frequently been trumped by coups and judicial decrees, there are suspicions that the military would try to cling on, creating the potential of new upheaval.
After a peaceful day of voting, polling stations ended at 5:00 p.m. (1000 GMT), with no major issues reported by Thai media.
Although preliminary results are expected later this evening, the final number of seats gained by each party will not be formally announced for several weeks.
Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the leading candidate of Pheu Thai, exhibited no symptoms of nervousness after voting in Bangkok.
Thai Prime Minister and United Thai Nation Party’s candidate Prayut Chan-O-Cha leaves after casting his ballot at a polling station during Thailand’s general election in Bangkok on May 14, 2023. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)
“Today is going to be a good day. I have very positive energy about it,” the 36-year-old told reporters, smiling broadly.
Millions of Thais cast ballots at 95,000 polling stations scattered from the lush-forested mountains of the north to the idyllic sands of the southern beaches.
A 90 percent turnout in the early round of voting last Sunday indicated an electorate looking for change, but the opposition faces an uphill road to secure power, according to the junta-drafted 2017 constitution.
The new premier will be picked jointly by Prayut’s junta’s 500 elected MPs and 250 senate members, thus stacking the deck in favor of the army.
In the contentious 2019 election, Prayut rode senate support to become prime minister, leading a difficult multi-party government.