- By Jonathan Head
- Southeast Asia Correspondent
Voting has begun in Thailand’s general election presided over by the daughter of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The election is being hailed as a turning point for a country that has seen more than a dozen military coups in recent history.
Army General Prayut Chan-Ocha, who led the 2014 coup, is set to return to office.
But he faces a strong challenge from two anti-military parties.
Voting began at 8:00 am (01:00 GMT) on Sunday at 95,000 polling stations across the country.
About 50 million people will vote to elect 500 members of the lower house of parliament – about two million people have already voted.
Phew Thai (for Thais), led by Mr Thaksin’s daughter Padongtern Shinawatra, is leading the race.
The 36-year-old is drawing on her father’s vast support network while sticking to a populist message that has resonated with rural, low-income areas of the country.
Mr Thaksin, a telecommunications billionaire, is loved by many low-income Thais but deeply unpopular with the state’s wealthy elite. He was removed from office in a military coup in 2006, when his opponents brought charges of corruption. He has denied the charges and has been living in exile in London and Dubai since 2008.
“After eight years, I think people want better politics, better solutions for the country than coups,” Ms Padongdorn told the BBC in a recent interview.
Move Forward, led by Pita Limjaronrad, a 42-year-old former tech executive, is also rising rapidly in the polls. Its young, progressive and ambitious candidates are campaigning on a simple but powerful message: Thailand must change.
“And this change is not really about another coup. Because it is a retrograde change. It is about reforming the military, the monarchy, for a democratic future, with better economic performance,” says the Institute for Security and International Studies. at Chulalongkorn University.
Meanwhile, Mr Prayuth, 69, has been lagging behind in opinion polls. He took power in 2014 after months of turmoil from the government of Mr Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Thailand held elections in 2019, but the results showed that no party won a majority.
A few weeks later, a pro-military party formed a government and announced Mr Prayuth as its prime ministerial candidate, which the opposition said was unfair.
The following year, a controversial court ruling disbanded Future Forward, an earlier iteration of Move Forward that had performed strongly in the polls due to passionate support from younger voters.
This sparked 6 months of mass protests demanding reform of the military and the monarchy.
With nearly 70 parties contesting this election and several major parties, it is unlikely that any single party will win a majority in the Lower House.
But even if a party does not win a majority, or is in a majority coalition, the political system and other additional electoral officers provided by the military-drafted 2017 constitution can prevent it from taking office.
The constitution, written while Thailand was under military rule, created an appointed 250-seat Senate that could vote on the next prime minister and government.
Because the senators were all appointed by the coup leaders, they always voted in favor of the current, military-aligned government, never in favor of the opposition.
So technically any party without the support of the Senate would need a super majority of 376 out of 500 seats, an unattainable target.
“Friend of animals everywhere. Coffee maven. Professional food trailblazer. Twitter buff.”