A political party created by Thailand’s ruling military government was leading in the first election since a 2014 coup, putting junta chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha in position to return as prime minister.
Palang Pracharath won 7.5 million votes with 92 percent counted, according to unofficial results posted on the Election Commission’s Facebook page. Pheu Thai, a political party linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, came in second with 7.05 million votes. The Election Commission plans to announce seat totals at 2 pm on Monday.
Tallies from local media outlets showed Palang Pracharath winning 146 seats, enough to install Prayuth under Thailand’s election rules. The 250-member Senate appointed by the junta is also likely to back him, effectively tilting the playing field in favor of the military.
Still, any coalition is likely to be weak and unwieldy, making it difficult to pass legislation in the lower house. Prayuth would need to rely on a range of smaller regional parties to push through key policies, while a pro-democracy bloc consisting of Pheu Thai and Future Forward looked set to form a sizable opposition.
“It’s definitely a deadlock,” said Win Udomrachtavanich, chairman of KTB Securities (Thailand) Pcl, who expected Thai stocks to fall on Monday. “All is still not certain yet.”
A win for the junta-backed party would amount to a breakthrough for Thailand’s royalist and military elites, who have repeatedly sought to prevent Thaksin and his allies from taking power over the past two decades.
While a Prayuth-led government would continue the junta’s economic policies, including a $54 billion infrastructure programme, it also faces questions of legitimacy.
Turnout for the election was 66 percent, compared with 75 percent in 2011, according to the Election Commission.
“This will leave the pro-military government with a large, strong opposition that’s led by Pheu Thai and Future Forward — both staunch critics of the junta,” said Punchada Sirivunnabood, an associate professor in politics at Mahidol University.
Questions of stability will hang over whichever ruling coalition emerges. Unsettled foreign investors have pulled out more than $700 million net from Thai stocks and bonds this year amid growth concerns in the export and tourism-reliant economy, the second-largest in Southeast Asia.
Thaksin or his allies have won the most seats in every Thai election since 2001, backed largely by poorer farmers who laud him for providing cheap healthcare, guaranteed crop prices and cheap loans. Sudarat Keyuraphan, the party’s candidate for prime minister, said the party with the most seats has the right to form the government first.
That was disputed by
Uttama Savanayana, Palang Pracharath’s leader, who said any parties that form a coalition first can take power.
To win more votes, the military’s party emulated Thaksin’s populist formula. The next prime minister needs 367 votes in the bicameral National Assembly, which consists of the Senate and a 500-member House of Representatives. The Election Commission has until May 9 to submit official results, after which lawmakers will pick a prime minister.