Thailand’s pro-democracy opposition parties have emerged as the biggest winners from the country’s elections on Sunday, delivering a blow to the military-backed government that has ruled since a coup in 2014.
According to partial results from the Election Commission, the Pheu Thai party, linked to influential former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, won about 23% of the votes, followed by the liberal Move Forward party with about 22.5%. The two parties are expected to start coalition talks to form a government that could challenge the status quo and push for reforms.
The ruling Palang Pracharath party, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s deputy and longtime mentor Prawit Wongsuwan, came in fourth with about 10% of the votes, while the United Thai Nation party, a vehicle for Prayuth himself, received only about 8%. Prayuth, a former army chief who seized power by overthrowing Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014, has faced criticism for repressing civil liberties and crushing pro-democracy protests last year.
The election results reflect a growing demand for change among Thai voters, especially the urban and young ones who have grown up in a time of political polarization and turmoil. The pro-democracy parties have campaigned on issues such as reviving the economy, boosting tourism, legalizing cannabis and reforming the monarchy, which is seen as a powerful ally of the military.
However, the opposition parties may still face hurdles in forming a stable government, as the constitution drafted by the military in 2017 gives the 250 appointed senators a say in choosing the prime minister. The Election Commission may also take up to two months to confirm the final results and seat allocation.
The election was seen as a crucial test for Thailand’s democracy after more than a decade of coups, crackdowns and protests that have shaken the country and its economy. The outcome could have implications for Thailand’s relations with its neighbors and allies, as well as its role in regional issues such as Myanmar’s coup and the Covid-19 pandemic.