Thai pro-military party takes early lead

Partial results from Sunday’s election in Thailand showed a pro-military party slightly ahead of the populist party leading a “democratic front”, an unexpected and — for many — stunning outcome from the country’s first poll since a 2014 army coup.

With 93% of overall votes counted, the Election Commission reported the pro-military party Palang Pracharat, which is seeking to keep junta chief Prayuth Chan-o-Cha in power, was leading with 7.59 million votes.

Trailing with 7.12 million votes was Pheu Thai, a party linked to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose loyalists have won every election since 2001.

Pheu Thai could still win

The numbers were for the popular vote, but these did not reflect parliamentary constituency seats that would ultimately be won. Pheu Thai could still win the lion’s share of these because of its concentrated popularity in the north and northeast of the country. Nevertheless, there was dismay among many voters who had hoped that the poll would loosen the grip on power that traditional elites and the military have held in a country that has one of the highest measures of inequality in the world. At Pheu Thai’s headquarters in Bangkok, the mood fluctuated from cheerful to quiet disbelief. “I didn’t think this is likely. I don’t think this is what the people wanted,” said Pheu Thai supporter Polnotcha Chakphet.

A #PrayforThailand hashtag started trending on Twitter as the results trickled out, and some people tweeted that they would leave the country if Mr. Chan-o-Cha was returned to power.

The Election Commission chairman said unofficial results would be announced on Monday afternoon.

The Commission said turnout was 66%, based on 90% of the vote counted. The royal family, which wields great influence and commands the devotion of millions of Thais, played a part in the election though how far it influenced the outcome was unclear.

The King’s message

On the eve of the vote, King Maha Vajiralongkorn made an unexpected and cryptic statement, recalling a comment made by his late father in 1969 on the need to put “good people” in power and to prevent “bad people from … creating chaos”.

His message was a departure from the approach of his late father: in his latter years, the former King usually kept a distance between the monarchy and politics.

The election will determine the make-up of Parliament’s 500-seat House of Representatives. The lower house and the upper house, the Senate — which is appointed entirely by the ruling junta — will together select the next Prime Minister.

The provision means Mr. Chan-o-Cha’s Palang Pracharat Party and allies have to win only 126 seats, while Pheu Thai and its potential “democratic front” partners would need 376.


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