Thai General Election: Opposition Hopes to Challenge Military’s Dominance

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Millions of Thai citizens participated in the country’s general election on Sunday, marking the first election since the 2020 pro-democracy protests and the second since the 2014 military coup. Frustration over the military’s grip on power and its handling of the economy has fueled opposition parties’ hopes of bringing about change.

Approximately 50 million Thais turned out to elect 500 members to the House of Representatives under Thailand’s bicameral system, which was restructured through a constitution drafted by the military following the coup. Each voter had two ballots, one for a local representative and one for a national party candidate.

The junta-era constitution grants significant influence to the establishment-dominated upper house in determining the formation of the government. Therefore, opposition parties need to secure a strong margin of victory to overcome the military-backed candidates.

A key driving force for change is a young generation of Thais seeking reforms and discussing previously taboo topics, including the military’s role and even potential royal reform. Their enthusiasm for political transformation was evident as long queues were observed outside polling stations in Bangkok, despite the scorching heat.

The leading opposition party, Pheu Thai, associated with the billionaire Shinawatra family, topped opinion polls. It campaigned on a populist platform, advocating for an increased minimum wage, welfare cash handouts, and the depoliticization of the military. Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Thaksin Shinawatra’s youngest daughter, ran as a prime ministerial candidate, presenting herself as a representative of the new generation.

Another prominent opposition force is the Move Forward party, which resonates with young Thais due to its progressive reform agenda. It calls for structural changes, including military reform and amendments to the strict lese majeste law, which restricts criticism of the royal family.

Incumbent Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who led the 2014 coup, sought re-election with his new party, the United Thai Nation. Despite his poor performance in opinion polls, analysts cautioned against underestimating him due to his ties to the country’s elites. Prayut’s government faced criticism for its handling of the pandemic and the economy.

The electoral system heavily favors the conservative establishment, making it challenging for opposition parties to form a government. To become prime minister, a candidate must secure a majority in both the lower and upper houses, with the Senate, chosen entirely by the military, likely favoring a pro-military party.

While early results were expected to be available on election night, the process of selecting a new prime minister could take weeks or even months due to the complexity of the system and potential post-election negotiations.

Overall, the Thai general election highlighted the desire for change among the electorate, particularly among young voters. Opposition parties aimed to challenge the military’s dominance and bring about democratic reforms, but the outcome and formation of the new government will depend on the intricacies of Thailand’s political system.