By Nayara Batschke
Bangkok, May 13 (EFE).- Some 52 million Thai citizens will vote on Sunday in the highly divisive general elections, considered a crucial turning point for the country after a decade overshadowed by military rule.
If the opposition wins, it could potentially signify a shift toward democracy.
The high-octane campaign has been characterized by the battle between the frontrunner pro-democracy opposition, led by the Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties.
On the other side, there are the pro-military factions, mainly represented by ex-general and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup.
He is seeking re-election under the banner of the conservative United Thai Nation party.
Although the surveys suggest a significant lead for the opposition, it won’t be an easy task to secure the 376 seats required to govern.
This is because the election for the prime minister involves a vote by the 500 members of Parliament and 250 members of the Senate.
The military-drafted constitution allows 250 senators, all handpicked by the junta that seized power in 2014, to vote in the election of the next prime minister.
According to the most recent data from the National Institute for Development Administration (NIDA), Pheu Thai, led by the powerful Shinawatra clan, would win with more than 38 percent of the vote, followed by Move Forward (nearly 34).
The United Thai Nations Party of the current prime minister
is predicted to get only 12 percent.
According to experts who spoke to EFE, there are several “uncertainties” surrounding the elections.
These include whether the military will accept the results, whether the winning party will be able to form a coalition to establish the government, and even concerns about potential party dissolution, as seen in previous elections.
Nonetheless, they believe that, for the first time in a while, the conflict between the conservative and progressive factions has managed to transcend the streets and materialize into the electoral arena.
Kanokrat Lertchoosakul, a political scientist, told EFE that it was the first time that the entire political spectrum, from the far-right to the social democrats, was contending for parliamentary seats.
“In the past, most of the battle between the different ideological camps took place on the street,” Lertchoosakul said.
It is precisely the diversity of political perspectives represented in these elections that make them “historic.”
The elections could be a crucial step in the development of Thailand’s fledgling democracy, which has seen 13 coups since the end of the absolute monarchy and the adoption of the first constitution in 1932.
Lertchoosakul said the election would decide the future of the nation, not only the formation of the new government.
A distinctive feature of these elections is the generational divide between younger voters, who came of age during a series of coups, and older voters, who view traditional institutions as protectors of their way of life and may consider the parliamentary system and democracy as secondary concerns.
“The younger generations have spent almost half their lives under military rule,” said Piyarat Chongthep, a candidate for the Move Forward Party, “and as a result, they no longer support this approach and believe that change is necessary.”
Despite the progress that Thailand has made in recent years and the emergence of a strong democratic force, political scientist Pitch Pongsawat suggested that the country was “deeply divided” between those who desire change and those who support the current regime to maintain the status quo.
Pitch Pongsawat noted that if the opposition was confirmed as the winner, they would need to set aside their differences and find common ground to form a government since it is unlikely they would secure an absolute majority of seats across both houses of parliament.
“There is a high chance that the democratic or anti-regime faction will win this election. They are consistently ahead of the regime in all the polls, but there is still a lot of competition within the democratic camp itself.”
Apart from their ideological difference, the next government will also have to tackle the challenge of rebuilding a struggling economy that has yet to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic impact.
They will also need to address the effects of increasing poverty and popular discontent in the country.
In response to these challenges, political parties have adopted a more populist agenda, which includes proposals like raising the minimum wage, debt relief measures, and even the distribution of cryptocurrencies.
The focus has shifted away from values-based issues, which were more prominent in previous elections.
Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University, said that for older generations, finding solutions to economic problems was the top priority, while younger generations were concerned with issues related to democracy. EFE