Thailand’s generals poised to retain power

Thailand’s military party appeared to have won enough seats in the general election for General Prayut Chan-ocha to remain prime minister in an electoral system heavily weighted towards the ruling junta.

But the results were so close that the Election Commission cancelled the expected official announcement of the outcome until Monday morning.

Preliminary results, with 93 per cent of the votes counted, showed a narrow lead for the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai, with an estimated 129 seats, compared with 117 for junta’s Phalang Pracharat party.

Despite celebrations at the announcement, the results were disappointing for Pheu Thai and far better than expected for the generals.

Phalang Pracharat will probably now form a pro-military coalition led by Prayut, the military-appointed prime minister.

Thailand’s military-drafted 2017 constitution means the 250 seats in the upper house are appointed by the generals, who have held power since the May 2014 coup.

To win a majority to form a government, a party needs more than half of the votes from the 750 seats in both houses, meaning the target is 376.

Any parties opposing the junta’s Palang Pracharat Party need to form an alliance of 376 MPs from the lower house alone. Palang Pracharat only needs to return 126 MPs to add to its 250 senators to form an administration.

The junta has already said the senate was “controllable”. In order to get Prayut voted back in as prime minister, it is likely to only need a handful of MPs from a minor parties.

After five years of military rule, the Thai economy has stagnated, the cost of living has risen with the gap between rich and poor growing wider and wages remain stagnant.

But the military has ended political protests.

“I love the way Thailand is right now, without any fighting, so while I think it is important we can come out and vote, I don’t think change is what is needed,” said Pearl Somboonpakron, who voted for Phalang Pracharat. “We need to preserve our country and our monarchy as it is now.”

Largely younger voters appear to have enabled the new progressive Future Forward to become the third-largest party in the parliament. The party campaigned for constitutional reform and to kick the military out of politics under the charismatic Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who repeatedly criticised the junta.

Flint, 21, voted for Future Forward and said he was “excited to finally use my democratic right to vote” but was not optimistic the election would bring change. “I think people in my generation we really want change, new government, new type of politics,” the first-time voter said. “But the people in my parent’s generation and older, they still want to continue the old style and to keep the status quo. So there is a big generational gap in Thailand when it comes to politics.”

Future Forward hammered the Democrat Party, especially in its Bangkok stronghold, forcing the resignation of its leader, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva last night (Sunday).

Thailand’s army might not be returning to the barracks. Picture credit: Asean Economist