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Thailand's opposition parties win big in election on promises of reform

Leader of Move Forward Party Pita Limjaroenrat shakes hand with a supporter as he leaves from Move Forward Party headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, May 14, 2023.
Leader of Move Forward Party Pita Limjaroenrat shakes hand with a supporter as he leaves from Move Forward Party headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, May 14, 2023. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews with AP
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Thailand's main opposition Move Forward party set to outdo predictions in Sunday's general election. The vote is seen as a pivotal chance for change nine years after incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha first came to power in a 2014 coup.

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Ballots tallied Monday showed voters in Thailand wanted change after nine years under a former general who took power in a coup, with the main opposition parties easily besting other contenders in the general election.

The opposition Move Forward Party outperformed even optimistic projections and appeared poised to capture almost all 33 House seats in the capital Bangkok. Along with the Pheu Thai Party, the favoured opposition group, Move Forward campaigned for reform of the military and the monarchy.

Move Forward put those issues closer to the heart of its platform, earning a more radical reputation. Its outspoken support for minor reforms of the monarchy, while winning younger voters, antagonized conservatives committed to the royal institution.

Incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who came to power in a 2014 coup, was blamed for a stuttering economy, pandemic response shortcomings and thwarting democratic reforms — a particular sore point with younger voters.

With 99% of the votes counted by early Monday morning, the junior opposition Move Forward Party had eked out a small edge over the favoured Pheu Thai Party, whose leaders earlier in the night conceded they might not finish on top.

Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat tweeted: "Politics is a matter of possibility. A heartfelt thank you for all your support and trust. We will change this country together".

Politics is a matter of possibility. A heartfelt thank you for all your support and trust. We will change this country together.

The winner of Sunday’s vote has not assured the right to form the new government. A joint session of the 500-seat House of Representatives will be held with the 250-member Senate in July to select the new prime minister, a process widely seen as undemocratic because the Senators were appointed by the military rather than elected but vote along with Sunday’s winning lawmakers.

Sunday’s voter turnout was about 39.5 million, or 75% of registered voters.

The maverick Move Forward Party captured just over 24% of the popular vote for the House of Representatives - 400 constituency seats and an almost 36% share of the vote for seats allocated in a separate nationwide ballot for the 100 members elected by proportional representation.

AP Photo
Pheu Thai Party's prime ministerial candidates Srettha Thavisin and Paetongtarn Shinawatra at a press conference at Pheu Thai headquarters in BangkokAP Photo

Pheu Thai Party lagged slightly behind with just over 23% of the constituency seats and about a 27% share of the party list.

The tally of constituency votes gave Move Forward 113 House seats and Pheu Thai 112, according to the Election Commission, which did not give a projection for party list seats.

Prayuth’s United Thai Nation Party held the fifth spot in the constituency vote with almost 9% of the total, but it placed third in the party-preference tally with close to 12%. Its constituency vote gave it 23 House seats.

The three parties were considered before the vote the most likely to head a new government. Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the 36-year-old daughter of the former billionaire populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, had been favoured in opinion polls to be chosen the country’s next leader.

AP Photo
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha leaves from United Thai Nation Party headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, May 14, 2023.AP Photo

Move Forward’s leader, 42-year-old businessman Pita Limjaroenrat now seems as likely a prospect.

Prayuth had been blamed for a stuttering economy, shortcomings in addressing the pandemic and thwarting democratic reforms, a particular sore point with younger voters.

Move Forward outperformed even optimistic projections, and the party appeared poised to capture all, or almost all, 33 House seats in the capital Bangkok.

Along with Pheu Thai, it campaigned for reform of the military and the monarchy. But Move Forward put those issues closer to the heart of its platform, earning a more radical reputation.

Pheu Thai is the latest in a string of parties linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin, who was ousted as prime minister by an army coup in 2006. Pheu Thai candidate Paetongtarn is his daughter. The government of her aunt, Yingluck Shinawatra, who became prime minister in 2011, was toppled in the coup led by Prayuth.

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