Thailand’s junta-linked party in the lead after almost all ballots counted

Thailand’s junta-linked party in the lead after almost all ballots counted

Thais began the nail-biting wait late Sunday to see whether the ruling junta will return to power as a civilian government, or if pro-democracy parties can triumph against the odds, as polls closed in the country's first general election since a 2014 coup.

With more than 90% of ballots counted, the Palang Pracha Rath Party has gained 7.6 million votes - half a million more than opposition Pheu Thai (For Thais).

The popular vote does not, however, reflect the number of parliamentary seats that would ultimately be won.

Sudarat Keyuraphan, leader of the main pro-Thaksin party, Pheu Thai, said her party would fight to overcome the constitutional barriers Prayuth's regime had set up. But it may take weeks to certify the tally, form the expected coalition government and pick a premier.

Critics say the charter gives appointed soldiers and bureaucrats in a planned 250-strong Senate the power to stifle elected politicians in the 500-seat lower house.

The new Future Forward Party, led by a 40-year-old liberal and athletic billionaire who has been unequivocal about his desire to end military rule, was in third place.

The leader of the Pheu Thai political party that was ousted as Thailand's government in a 2014 military coup says she's confident of winning Sunday's election.

The Election Commission chairman said 95 per cent of the results of Sunday's general election will be announced on Monday at 10 am (0300 GMT).

The military junta looked likely to remain in power and retain a decisive role in politics. "Social mobilization, political participation, people want change", said Paul Chambers, lecturer and special advisor on global affairs at Naresuan University, Phitsanulok.

"Even the reported numbers from the Election Commission and each media outlet are different".

Even if Pheu Thai party emerged the biggest victor in yesterday's general election, it remains a question whether it can form the next government.

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Thailand has been under direct military rule for almost five years since then-army chief Prayuth overthrew an elected government linked to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who himself was thrown out by the army in 2006. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who led the Pheu Thai government that was ousted in 2014, also fled the country after what supporters said was a politically motivated prosecution.

About 51.4 million people from Thailand's population of 69 million were able to vote at more than 93,200 polling stations in 77 provinces.

As such, the two parties would be more or less level with each other in terms of both constituency and party-list MPs.

Of the 52 million eligible voters in Thailand - nearly 70 per cent of whom turned up to cast ballots in the first election since a 2014 coup - about seven million are young, first-time voters. Leaders of political parties opposed to military rule urged a high turnout as the only way to derail Prayuth's plans, but at 66 per cent, turnout fell short of their hopes. It was also broadcast on Thai television stations minutes before voting started.

The weekend elections saw a last-minute Saturday admonition from the nation's king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, who warned that voters must follow "good" leaders as a means of preventing "chaos".

The statement added: "It is his desire that all people and all civil servants, military and police who are oversee the country's security and well-being of the people, abide by this royal order".

It was the monarch's second notable intervention in politics recently.

Another royal command in February torpedoed the candidacy of the king's elder sister Princess Ubolratana for prime minister of a party linked to Thaksin.

"In 2014, they took power with the barrel of a gun, by a coup", she said.

After the coup, political party gatherings were banned and pro-democracy activists and other dissenters were regularly arrested, interrogated and imprisoned.

Political observers noted that the Democrat Party disappointed hugely after it won only 29 constituency seats as of press time and lost all its seats in Bangkok to the PPRP and FFP.

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