The polls closed at 5:00 pm local time in Thailand on March 24, Sunday, in the first general election the country has seen since the military took over in 2014. However, contrary to a prior announcement, preliminary results were not released after the polls ended.
With ninety percent of the votes already counted, the party linked to the military has taken the lead, and final results are to be announced at 10:00 am on Monday, March 25. Note: this announcement was later changed to 2:00 pm.
Shortly before 10:00 pm last night, the chairman of the Election Commission, Itthiporn Boonprakong, made an abrupt announcement that the final results would not come out on the same day when the elections were held, even if they had promised this months ago.
Mr. Itthiporn did not explain why this was so, but merely announced a press conference for the following morning, which was later changed to the afternoon.
The question at the heart of the elections is this: will Thais accept the existing military rule, or flock to the polls to in an effort to save democracy.
But as things stand, the odds seem to be firmly stacked in favor of military rule.
The military-backed Pracharat party has gotten 7.5 million votes, followed closely by Pheu Thai, the party with ties to the country’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, with 7 million votes.
The up-and-coming Future Forward party, led by a younger set of leaders who have promised to bring change, ranked third in the polls with around 4.8 million votes.
Thailand has 52 million registered voters, some 7 million of whom were voting for the first time. The voters’ turnout was slightly below 67 percent, which is smaller than what was expected. In last week’s early polls, the turnout had been at 87 percent.
The lower-than-expected turnout is not good news for those who desire to see reforms to restore democracy, including Mr Thaksin. Until this year, parties connected to Mr Thaksin emerged victorious for every election since 2001.
Furthermore, the Election Commission said that concerns have been raised, since almost 6 percent of the votes have been invalidated.
And while both parties are waiting until the official announcement is made by the Election Commission, the leader of Palang Pracharat, Uttama Savanayana, announced in a news conference that he had already been called by the Prime Minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, commending him for how well the party had done.
Palang Pracharat’s showing in the polls has meant that General Prayuth Chan-ocha is likely to continue as Prime Minister. General Prayuth led the junta behind the 2014 coup, and is the party’s nominee for Prime Minister.
Under Thailand’s new constitution, the junta chose all 250 senators. This means that the party only needs to win 126 of the contested seats in congress in order to secure the Prime Minister’s position, since a majority only needs to secure 376 seats.
This means that even if Pheu Thai wins the same number or even more seats in Parliament, the military backed party is very likely to remain in power.
Even with the votes not fully counted, Palang Pracharat did better than expected. The party launched its campaign on the foundation of stability and defending the country’s monarchy.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun issued a statement on the eve of the elections, asking Thais to “support good people to rule the country and prevent bad people from gaining power and causing trouble and disorder.”
While the King has said in the past that the monarchy is “above politics,” the statement said, “His Majesty is concerned about the stability of the nation, the feelings and happiness of the people.”
The New York Times reports political-science professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Surat Horachaikul, as saying, “The military, especially since General Prayuth came to power, has penetrated every corner of Thai society and politics. It will not easily recede from politics.”
Indeed, this year’s election was already delayed several times.
Additionally, the general’s rule has seen a crackdown on political freedoms—including an increase of prosecutions on cybercrime and sedition cases. Even students who copied the salute from the popular “Hunger Games” movies have been arrested.
The shadow of repression loomed large over the polls, with the threat of imprisonment felt by parties in opposition to the military junta, including Mr Thaksin’s Pheu Thai, and the youth-led Future Forward, which is fielding candidates for the first time.
However, analysts are pointing to the performance of Future Forward as a sign of things to come. Led by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the party led an online-savvy campaign that appealed to the youth vote. But Mr Thanathorn, the billionaire son from a family in the auto parts business, could face jail time on cybercrime charges even as early as next week.
Mr Thanathorn has alleged that the both the political system and the elections itself have been unfair. The New York Times reports him as saying that the leaders of the junta “wrote the Constitution, regulated the elections and are the players within their own game.”
Results will not officially be announced until early in May. However, with the military backed party still in power, the situation in Thailand is likely to remain unchanged. On Twitter by the evening of election day, the hashtag #prayforthailand began to trend.
How fair and free yesterday’s elections in Thailand remain in question. As Thai MP Kiat Sittheeamorn wrote in The Independent, “It is also interesting to note that the appointed first-term Senate will outlive the lower house by one year, therefore giving the body influence in the next government (both the government and the House of Representatives have a term of office of 4 years). Actually, one of the Senate’s tasks is to make sure that any new administration follows the 20-year national strategies put in place by the current government.
Furthermore, Article 44 of the Interim Constitution — giving the executive branch a special power and being passed on to the current Constitution in a special provision – will still be in force until the assumption of the new government. On March 20th last year, the government used the special power under Article 44 to remove a member of the Election Commission from office without any explanation.
This means that the military government will still have absolute power during the election until the formation of the new government. It may become crucial in the 60day interregnum between the election and the Election Commission’s announcement of official results.
It is also important to note that all past and future orders and announcements of the current government remain in force until amendments or cancellations by the new government.
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