Thai junta holds onto lead as nation awaits election results

Published March 25, 2019, 4:56 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Agence France-Presse 

Results of Thailand’s first election since the 2014 coup were expected to trickle out Monday, with the junta primed to retain its grip on power after a vote that saw its main rival diminished, but vaulted a new pro-democracy force into the kingdom’s politics.

Thailand's election was seen as a referendum on the military (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)
Thailand’s election was seen as a referendum on the military (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

The Election Commission delayed without explanation a full announcement of preliminary results on Sunday night as a blizzard of complaints mounted over apparent mistakes in the count and possible irregularities at the polls.

Nearly 1.9 million votes had been invalidated with 93 percent of votes tallied, the EC said late Sunday. Earlier counts showed that in a handful of provinces more than half the ballots cast were invalidated.

Sunday’s election — seen as a referendum on the military — was held under new rules written by the junta to ease its transformation into a civilian government.

Despite that headstart, analysts had not expected the army-linked Phalang Pracharat party to win the popular vote, given anger at junta rule and the enduring popularity of Pheu Thai — the party of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

But as initial figures dribbled out, Phalang Pracharat — with 2014 coup leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha as its candidate for prime minister — edged into a clear lead, racking up more than 7.6 million votes with more than 90 percent of ballots tallied.

“This will give them… popular legitimacy and more credibility,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, told AFP.

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

That should propel Prayut’s party to the 126 lower house seats it needs to secure a parliamentary majority, in combination with a 250-seat upper house Senate that is appointed by the junta.

Shock gripped the pro-democracy camp, which had hoped to harness widespread anti-junta sentiment.

Thaksin, the self-exiled billionaire ex-cop turned-Thai premier, who is at the crux of Thailand’s political breakdown, reached out to supporters as the results tipped against his Pheu Thai party.

“As long as we still have breath, we can not give up,” he said in a Facebook post on Monday.