The official final result is still pending. But at the end of a long election day in Thailand, it is already clear that voters in the Southeast Asian country want political change. Nine years after the coup d'état by the military, whose leader continued to lead the government even after the recent election in 2019, the majority of votes go to the opposition.
Political correspondent for Southeast Asia.
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The electoral commission is not expected to present the official election results until July. According to preliminary figures from the electoral commission, the two opposition parties, the Move Forward Party and the Pheu Thai Party, have been in a tight race to see who gets the most seats in the House of Representatives.
The young and dynamic Move Forward Party with its 42-year-old top candidate Pita Limjaroenrat surprises with an even better result than had been expected. After much of the preliminary result was published, the party is even likely to be slightly ahead of the largest opposition party, Pheu Thai.
The former entrepreneur announced that he wanted to talk to Pheu Thai about forming a government coalition. "It's time for change," said the 42-year-old Pita, according to reports from news agencies. His party represents, among other things, the young democracy movement, which broke a taboo in Thailand three years ago with its demand for monarchy reform.
In the Thai context, some of his party's demands seem almost radical, including the desire to reform Thailand's harsh lèse-majesté laws. The preliminary result suggests that older voters have also opted for the party. Observers see her good performance as a sign of profound political change in Thailand.
Nevertheless, it is still considered possible that the established forces around former General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has been in power since 2014, could still try to prevent a change of power. In 2017, his government amended the constitution in such a way that, in addition to the 500 elected members of parliament, the 250 members of the Senate also have a say in the head of government. The senators were not elected, but appointed. They are considered loyal to the previous leadership of the military and the royal family.
An opposition coalition would theoretically need as many as 376 seats in the House of Representatives to push through its candidate. On Sunday, it was not foreseeable whether it would be enough. In view of the poor result for Prayut and his United Thai Nation Party, which apparently received only the fifth most votes, it seems less and less conceivable that he could try to be elected head of government and form a minority government.
However, a coalition of opposition parties could also entail interventions by the military and the judiciary. In such a case, mass protests would probably be expected. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who is known for enforcing cannabis legalization in Thailand, could play a role in forming a government. According to the preliminary results, his party has risen to become the third strongest force.
The high voter turnout of more than 80 percent of Thailand's 52 million eligible voters also speaks for the will to change. The strength of the progressive Move Forward Party is also at the expense of the largest opposition party to date, the Pheu Thai Party. The announcement by the exiled former prime minister and party patriarch Thaksin Shinawatra that he plans to return to Thailand before his 74th birthday in July may have had a negative effect. "It's been almost 17 years since I was separated from my family. I'm already old," Thaksin wrote. His daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra ran in the election as one of her party's three top candidates. The 36-year-old Paetongtarn had campaigned despite an advanced pregnancy and gave birth to a child two weeks ago.