Vote counting begins in Thailand’s first election since coup
Bangkok, Thailand — Voting has closed in the long-delayed elections that Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general who led the coup against the country’s last elected government five years ago, hopes will return him to power as a civilian prime minister.
Polling stations across the country closed after nine hours of voting at 5pm (22:00 GMT),
About 52 million voters were registered to vote, some seven million of them for the first time.
The vote is taking place under a new constitution that gives the military considerable influence over the country’s civilian politics and makes it difficult for any party to win a majority in the 500-seat lower house. The upper house is appointed by the military.
The prime minister will be the person who can secure a majority across both houses, and the 250-seat senate is seen as giving Prayuth an advantage.
Thailand holds first vote since 2014 military coup
With counting underway at the nearly 93,000 polling stations across the country, the Elections Commission told reporters that turnout was high. In early voting last week it was 87 percent.
At a polling station in the Jula hospital of Chulalongkorn University, election officials counted down the minutes to the closing of the polls and a few stragglers rushed to cast their ballots.
Nurse Pornsiri Supkong arrived in a puff with five minutes to spare. The 23-year-old said she had decided who to vote for after analysing party policies, but had also concluded that after so many years of division it was time for Thailand to try something new. ‘I looked back at the conflict and I thought I want to break from that,’ whispering that she had decided to back Future Forward.
’Beginning to see the future’
The vote count in the polling station, one of the 6,000 in Bangkok, showed others seemed to share her view with Future Forward performing strongly, and Prayuth’s Palang Pracharat in second place.
A few members of the public were on hand to watch the count.
’We are beginning to see the future,’ said two students as they walked away.
Campaigning has been spirited and Pheu Thai, the party linked to former prime minister and exiled tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra that has its power base in the rural northeast, is expected to win the most seats.
Other major parties include the Democrats, Thailand’s oldest political party, under Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Future Forward, is a new party founded only last year by car parts billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. It has campaigned on a promise of change and military reform.
In the sports hall of the Mater Dei School in central Bangkok, a steady stream of voters came to cast their ballot after the doors opened.
Phatcharin Ayasahond, 55, agreed the election was important, but her main concern was to preserve peace and stability.
The IT worker said she had been caught up in the violence on the streets of Bangkok in 2010 and did not want that kind of conflict to return.
’This election is very important,’ she said after casting her vote. ‘This time it’s for us to decide who will be prime minister.’
She declined to reveal who she voted for.
Thais are choosing their representatives through a complicated system that includes both direct votes and a party list, and while the official results will not be announced until after the coronation of King Vajiralongkorn in May, the Elections Commission is expected to announce preliminary results hours after the polls close.
The King himself released an announcement on the eve of the election that was broadcast across national television to say that Thais should support ‘good people’ to run the country.
’It’s significant that the King made a comment so close to election day,’ said David Streckfuss, an independent historian based in Khon Kaen in the northeast.
’It’s hard to know exactly what the meaning is, but it shows the monarchy’s continuing interest in the country’s future trajectory.’
Thailand has been consumed by divisions between supporters and opponents of Thaksin Shinawatra, since he was elected prime minister in 2001 promising to help ordinary people who had long felt ignored by the traditional elites in Bangkok.
Thaksin was ousted in a coup in 2006 after mass street protests by the so-called ‘yellow shirts’ and lives in exile after being found guilty of corruption. He says the charges were politically motivated.
The cycle of Thaksin-backed election win, instability and coup continued until Prayuth seized control of the country in 2014, banning political activity and cracking down on freedom of expression.
Despite the ban being lifted to allow election campaigning, parties and candidates continue to operate in a restrictive environment.
Thai Raksa Chart, another Thaksin-linked party, was banned and dissolved in February after nominating Princess Ubolratana, the king’s elder sister, as its candidate for prime minister.
Thanathorn faces court on Tuesday for criticising the military.
Parties need to secure 376 seats for a majority so it is possible for Palang Pracharat to form a government with only 126 seats in the lower house, assuming they have the support of the 250-seat upper house which is appointed by the military.
’This is a step along the way,’ cautioned Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. ‘There’s a long road ahead and we have to be mindful and sober. It’s not a genuine democracy. It’s a democratic transition under military custody.’
Additional reporting by Hathairat Phaholtap
SOURCE: Al Jazeera News
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