Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha dissolved the National Assembly on Monday, a long-awaited move that paves the way for parliamentary elections in May.
The ballot, the second since the 2014 coup, must take place between 45 and 60 days after the dissolution. It will probably be held on May 7 or May 14 according to the Thai press.
The body in charge of supervising the elections (EC) will announce the date in the coming days.
The vote pits the unpopular Prayut, who came to power through a military putsch, against the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the army’s pet peeve and who, despite an exile of more than ten years, continues to animate Thai political life.
The second economy of Southeast Asia has been living for several weeks to the rhythm of a campaign which had started unofficially, between meetings and electoral posters in the streets.
Prayut (68), legitimized in power in 2019 by controversial legislative elections, has a rare longevity for a leader in Thailand whose political history is studded with coups (twelve successful since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932) .
Two months before the vote, weighed down by a mixed economic record, it is racing behind the main opposition party, Pheu Thai, which collects half of the voting intentions of a poll carried out on 2,000 people and released on Sunday (against 12 % for Prayut’s party).
Its leader, Paetongtarn Shinawatra (36), is the new face of the wealthy family whose opposition to the powerful army, self-proclaimed guarantor of the monarchy, has structured Thai political life for more than twenty years.
Her father Thaksin served as prime minister between 2001 and 2006 before being overthrown, while her aunt Yingluck led the government from 2011 to 2014 until Prayut’s coup.
“I have great hopes of forming a government, of course,” she told reporters on Friday. “We are campaigning for a broad victory, because a broad victory will make us strong enough to form a government.”
«Change of era»
The 2017 constitution, drafted under the junta, constrains Pheu Thai, who is aiming for 310 of the lower house’s 500 seats, to secure a very large majority to govern, which observers say is elusive.
The Prime Minister is appointed by both the deputies and the 250 senators appointed by the government, who tend to favor a candidate close to the military.
Between Prayut and Shinawatra, the Move Forward party (17% of voting intentions), surprised by the ballot in 2019 thanks to its young electorate, hopes to capitalize on the massive pro-democracy demonstrations in 2020.
Its leader Pita Limjaroenrat assured AFP that he had seen a “change of era over the past four years”.
“I’m sure voters will vote for the future, not the good old days,” said the 42-year-old politician.
Weeks could pass after the election until the appointment of the prime minister, time to forge alliances in a fractured political landscape.
The figure of Thaksin Shinawatra, exiled to Dubai to escape a conviction for corruption which he considers political, remains divisive with the elites who could oppose a new leader from his family.
The ballot will decide whether or not the kingdom “comes out of a rut that has persisted for twenty years,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
“Was Prayut’s coup a mess for the country?” asks Wanwichit Boonprong, who teaches political science at Rangsit University.
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