Thailand’s General Election Marks a Turning Point as Thaksin Shinawatra’s Daughter Leads the Race

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Thailand’s general election, described as a significant moment for a country plagued by numerous military coups, is currently underway with the daughter of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra emerging as the frontrunner. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army general who led the last coup in 2014, is seeking another term but faces strong opposition from two anti-military parties.

Voting began at 8:00 am across the country at approximately 95,000 polling stations, with around 50 million people expected to cast their ballots to elect 500 members of the lower house of parliament. Nearly two million people had already voted early. Leading the race is Pheu Thai (For Thais), led by Thaksin’s daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra. The 36-year-old candidate is leveraging her father’s extensive patronage network while staying true to the populist message that resonates with rural, low-income regions of Thailand.

Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications billionaire, remains beloved by many lower-income Thais but is deeply unpopular with the royalist elite. He was ousted in a military coup in 2006 following allegations of corruption, which he denies. Since 2008, he has been living in exile in London and Dubai. Paetongtarn Shinawatra expressed that the people desire better politics and solutions for the country, emphasizing the need to move beyond coup d’etats.

Another party making significant gains in the polls is Move Forward, led by Pita Limjaroenrat, a 42-year-old former tech executive. The party’s young, progressive, and ambitious candidates have campaigned on a powerful message of change, advocating for democratic reforms, including improvements in the military and monarchy, for a better economic future.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayuth, 69, has been trailing in the opinion polls. He came to power in 2014 after seizing control from Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, following a period of political turmoil. The 2019 election did not produce a clear majority for any party, and a pro-military party formed the government shortly thereafter, appointing Prayuth as the prime minister candidate in a process contested by the opposition.

Thailand’s political landscape remains complex, with nearly 70 parties participating in this election. It is unlikely that any single party will secure an outright majority in the lower house. Moreover, the 2017 constitution, drafted under military rule, introduced a 250-seat appointed senate that plays a crucial role in the choice of the next prime minister and government. As the coup leaders appointed all senators, they have consistently supported the military-aligned government and opposed the opposition. This creates a challenging path for any party without the senate’s backing to attain a super-majority of 376 out of 500 seats.

As Thailand navigates this pivotal election, the country is grappling with the prospects of change, democratic reforms, and the role of military influence in politics. The outcome of this election will shape the future direction of Thailand and its quest for political stability and progress.