Thailand is holding a landmark election on Sunday, eight years after incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha first came to power in a 2014 coup. The election is seen as a pivotal chance for change, as the opposition parties are favored to top the polls and challenge the military-backed government.
About 52 million voters are choosing members of a new 500-seat House of Representatives for the next four years. The election is expected to have a high turnout, as many Thais are eager to exercise their democratic rights and voice their dissatisfaction with the status quo.
The main contenders are the Pheu Thai party, which is linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 coup, and the Palang Pracharat party, which supports Prayuth’s bid to stay in power. Other parties that could play a key role in forming a coalition government include the Bhumjaithai party, the Democrat party, and the Move Forward party, which has emerged as the top choice for many young Thais.
The election is taking place amid tight security and volunteer-led oversight. Over 33,000 volunteers have registered as election observers with Thai NGO We Watch. The Election Commission has also deployed more than 200,000 officials to ensure a fair and transparent process.
The results of the election are expected to be announced on Sunday night, but the final allocation of seats may take weeks to determine. The new parliament will then elect a prime minister with the support of at least 376 lawmakers, including 250 senators who are appointed by the military.
The opposition parties have vowed to amend the constitution that was drafted by the military and approved by a referendum in 2016. They have also promised to restore civil liberties, tackle inequality, and reform the monarchy. The ruling party has defended its record of maintaining stability, boosting the economy, and handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
The election is widely seen as a test of Thailand’s fragile democracy and its future direction. Many Thais hope that the election will end the cycle of coups and protests that have plagued the country for decades.