Shock lead for pro-junta party in Thai poll, Latest World News - The New Paper

Shock lead for pro-junta party in Thai poll

This article is more than 12 months old

Partial results show Phalang Pracharat party has shock lead in the popular vote

BANGKOK: Thailand's Election Commission (EC) chairman announced last night that the unofficial results of the general election, with 95 per cent of the vote counted already, will be announced today.

The results had been due last night and Mr Ittiporn Boonprakong did not give a reason for the delay.

Partial results showed Thailand's junta-linked party had a shock lead in the popular vote, edging ahead of its pro-democracy rivals in the first election since a 2014 coup.

The Phalang Pracharat party, which wants junta chief Prayut Chan-O-cha to return as Premier, gained more than 7.3 million votes with 91 per cent tallied, according to the EC - nearly half a million more than Pheu Thai.

The partial result did not say how many of the Lower House of Parliament constituencies its results reflected.

Thailand has been under direct military rule for nearly five years since then-army chief Prayut overthrew an elected government linked to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who himself was thrown out by the army in 2006.

Turnout was expected to be about 80 per cent of the 51.2 million eligible voters, the EC said about an hour before polls closed at 5pm local time.

The election will determine the make-up of the 500-seat Parliament's 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.

Critics have said a new, junta-written electoral system gives a built-in advantage to pro-military parties and appears designed to prevent the Thaksin-linked Pheu Thai Party from returning to power.

Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election since 2001, but the past 15 years have seen crippling street protests both by his opponents and supporters that destabilised governments and hamstrung business.

Mr Prayut is hoping to stay on as prime minister with the backing of a pro-military party that campaigned on maintaining order and upholding traditional values of loyalty and devotion to the monarch.

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".

Although he did not refer to any of the sides in the race, the King's message was a departure from the approach of his late father, who died in 2016.

The former king, in his latter years, usually kept a distance between the monarchy and politics.

King Vajiralongkorn also weighed in on electoral affairs last month following a startling turn of events when a pro-Thaksin party nominated Princess Ubolratana, the King's sister, as its prime ministerial candidate.

Within hours, the King issued a statement saying her candidacy was "inappropriate" and she was quickly disqualified.

"What happened last month ... and then the announcement last night shows that, in contrast to the former reign, the monarchy is actively interested in monitoring what's going on and it feels it has some stake in the future direction of the country," said David Streckfuss, a Thailand-based independent scholar. - REUTERS