Thailand’s opposition wins big election victory, challenging army-backed conservative establishment

Supporters of Move Forward party cheer as they watch the counting of votes on television at Move Forward Party headquarters on Sunday in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK — Thailand’s main opposition parties easily bested other contenders with virtually all the votes counted from Sunday’s general election, fulfilling many voters’ hopes that the balloting would serve as a pivotal chance for change nine years after incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha first came to power in a 2014 coup.

With 99% of the votes counted by early Monday morning, the junior opposition Move Forward Party had eked out a small edge over the favored Pheu Thai Party, whose leaders earlier in the night conceded they might not finish on top.


The winner of Sunday’s vote is not assured the right to form the new government.

A joint session of the 500-seat House of Representatives will be held with the 250-member Senate in July to select the new prime minister, a process widely seen as undemocratic because the Senators were appointed by the military rather than elected but vote along with Sunday’s winning lawmakers.

Sunday’s voter turnout was about 39.5 million, or 75% of registered voters.

The maverick Move Forward Party captured just over 24% of the popular vote for the House of Representatives’ 400 constituency seats and an almost 36% share of the vote for seats allocated in a separate nationwide ballot for the 100 members elected by proportional representation.

Pheu Thai Party lagged slightly behind with just over 23% for the constituency seats and about a 27% share for the party list.

The tally of constituency votes gave Move Forward 113 House seats and Pheu Thai 112, according to the Election Commission, which did not give a projection for party list seats.

Prayuth’s United Thai Nation Party held the fifth spot in the constituency vote with almost 9% of the total, but it placed third in the party-preference tally with close to 12%. Its constituency vote gave it 23 House seats.

The three parties were considered before the vote to the most likely to head a new government. Paetongtarn Shinawatra, 36-year-old daughter of the former billionaire populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, had been favored in opinion polls to be chosen the country’s next leader.

Move Forward’s leader, 42-year=old businessman Pita Limjaroenrat, now seems as likely a prospect.

Prayuth had been blamed for a stuttering economy, shortcomings in addressing the pandemic and thwarting democratic reforms.

The returns were a good sign for democratization, said Saowanee T. Alexander, a professor at Ubon Ratchathani University in northeastern Thailand.

“This is people saying that we want change … They are saying that they could no longer take it. The people are very frustrated.” she said.

Move Forward outperformed even optimistic projections, and the party appeared poised to capture all, or almost all, 33 House seats in the capital Bangkok.

Along with Pheu Thai, it campaigned for reform of the military and the monarchy.

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