Pro-Junta Party Takes Surprise Lead in Thai Election, Official Result Delayed

Mar 27, 2019, 00:47
Pro-Junta Party Takes Surprise Lead in Thai Election, Official Result Delayed

A party backed by the military has taken the lead in Thailand's first election since the 2014 coup, indicating that the retired general Prayuth Chan-ocha will stay in power.

With 95 per cent of votes counted as of last night, the pro-junta party grossed 7,939,937 votes nationwide while the Shinawatra-backed Pheu Thai was second with 7,423,361 votes. Opposition party Pheu Thai, the former governing party ousted by the coup, appeared on course to win the most seats.

Phalang Pracharat had almost half a million more votes than Pheu Thai, despite the track record of Mr Thaksin whose parties have won every vote since 2001, drawing on loyalty from the rural and urban poor.

But the party faces an uphill battle because selection of the next prime minister will be decided by the 500-member lower house as well as a 250-member junta-appointed Senate.

The Election Commission announced the winners of 350 constituencies at 4pm, after several delays in giving seat totals.

The preliminary result is unexpected, with the Palang Pracha Rath Party (PPRP) initially predicted by many to come third.

One party said it was considering a legal challenge over what it said were poll irregularities and, amid popular dismay over the partial results, the number of signatures on an online petition to impeach the Election Commission leapt by more than 300,000 over a few hours to more than half a million. Unsettled foreign investors have pulled out in excess of a net $700 million from Thai stock and bond markets this year.

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More than 33 million voters out of the 51 million eligible cast their ballots in the election.

But questions over the count have billowed out, with social media ablaze with allegations of vote buying, mass invalidation of electoral cards and bungling by polling staff across the country.

"In the medium-term, we could see Thailand return to extended political instability if Prayuth cannot maintain the confidence of the lower house, where he is unlikely to command a majority", said Aaron Connelly, research fellow at International Institute for Strategic Studies. The turnout is about 66 percent, while the EC expected more than 80 percent of the voters would join the poll.

Thailand's powerful King Maha Vajiralongkorn issued a statement on the eve of the election that said the role of leaders is to stop "bad people" from gaining power and causing chaos.

The, as yet, unofficial results showed Pheu Thai leading with 137 seats to 96 seats for junta leader Prayuth's party. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who led the government that was ousted in 2014, also fled the country after what supporters said was a politically motivated corruption prosecution.

Her sentiments were echoed by others who said it was wrong that Prayut and the military could dominate the political system and exert their influence to the point where they are widely expected to remain in control after this election.

"We have our own number too", said the party's secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai.

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"I am anxious", said Wipa Ployngam, 53, outside the Bangkok headquarters of the upstart, anti-junta Future Forward party, hoping a pro-democracy coalition will nudge its way to victory.

Politicians across the spectrum fear a stalemate under election rules, written by the junta, which limit the chances of any single party emerging with a comfortable parliamentary majority.

"People are trapped in this illusion of peace and stability portrayed by the military", he told Al Jazeera.

The EC has said it will finalize the results by May 9.

He said such people didn't usually vote in Thailand.

A Thaksin-linked party, Thai Raksa Chart, was disbanded earlier in March for hostility toward the constitutional monarchy, after Vajiralongkorn rejected the party's nomination of his sister Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya as its prime ministerial candidate.

She also pointed to "irregularities" and said her party was "gathering evidence".

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