Thailand opposition party surges to stunning lead in preliminary vote count

Voters turned out in large numbers in Thailand on Sunday for an election that may bring an end to nearly a decade of military-backed rule. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
1 of 9 | Voters turned out in large numbers in Thailand on Sunday for an election that may bring an end to nearly a decade of military-backed rule. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

BANGKOK, May 14 (UPI) -- Thailand's two major pro-democracy opposition parties swept to a landslide victory in elections held Sunday, according to preliminary results, as voters called for a change in the decades-long hold on political power by the military and the monarchy.

With about 80% of the vote counted at midnight, the progressive Move Forward Party was running ahead of the more established populist Pheu Thai party in the race to fill the 500 seats up for grabs in the House of Representatives -- a stunning result for the upstart party.


Move Forward had claimed 114 seats, while Pheu Thai had 111 seats in the preliminary count, according to Thailand's Election Commission.

The results were a clear rebuke to the legacy of current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general who seized power in a military coup in 2014. His United Thai Nation Party was polling a distant fifth, with 24 seats.


The Move Forward Party has been buoyed by younger voters desperate for change in Thailand after nearly a decade of military-backed rule and generations of leadership by a conservative establishment.

"Thailand has been stuck in a loop," Move Forward supporter Jirapol Rangsoongnern, 38, said at a polling station in central Bangkok on Sunday morning.

"I'm very excited to vote," he said. "We need to change the structure of the system. The economy is very bad and we are tired of the military and tired of Prayuth."

Behind its 42-year-old Harvard-educated leader Pita Limjaroenrat, Move Forward has put forth an ambitious agenda that looks to rewrite the constitution, end military conscription and -- most radically -- reform the lese-majeste law that makes it a crime to insult the king or members of the royal family.

Pita told reporters on Sunday night that the results have exceeded the party's minimum goal, which was to win 100 seats.

"We are in the process of reaching 160 [seats], which is the high end of the objective we have set," he said.

He added that the result would give Move Forward the ability to form a coalition government with Pheu Thai, which had been heavily favored to win in pre-election surveys.


To form a government, a prime minister needs a majority of votes from both the House of Representatives and an appointed 250-member Senate, which the military has firm control over thanks to its post-coup 2017 constitution.

The populist Pheu Thai party has dominated electoral politics for the past two decades but has repeatedly been removed from power by military coups and judicial interventions.

It is led by 36-year-old Paetongtarn Shinawatra, whose billionaire father Thaksin was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup. Her aunt Yingluck also served as prime minister before being removed by the military in 2014.

The family dynasty remains deeply popular with rural and working-class Thais but remains at odds with the military- and monarchy-aligned establishment in a power struggle that has dominated Thai politics for the last two decades.

The rise of the Move Forward Party made this year's election "fundamentally different" than previous clashes between the Thaksin-led populist forces and the traditional establishment, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, told UPI.

"[Move Forward] is taking Thai politics to the next level by demanding structural reforms of established centers of power, particularly the military and the monarchy," he said.

The party is a successor of the Future Forward Party, which performed well in the 2019 general election before being dissolved by Thailand's constitutional court. The move sparked a student-led pro-democracy movement in 2020 that called for reining in both the military and the monarchy.


Several of the young people who took part in the protests ran as candidates with Move Forward, such as 28-year-old Rukchanok Srinork.

"I am just a normal person -- I came to this election without resources, without money, without a family name," Rukchanok told UPI. "I want to win this seat so I can help raise the ceiling in this political climate. The time to change is now."

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