Millions of Thais queue to vote for first time in eight years

Voters at a polling station in a local car service centre in the Huay Kwang district of Bangkok yesterday. Millions of Thais braved long queues and blistering heat to vote in the long-awaited elections. An election official presenting a ballot for in
Voters at a polling station in a local car service centre in the Huay Kwang district of Bangkok yesterday. Millions of Thais braved long queues and blistering heat to vote in the long-awaited elections. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Voters at a polling station in a local car service centre in the Huay Kwang district of Bangkok yesterday. Millions of Thais braved long queues and blistering heat to vote in the long-awaited elections. An election official presenting a ballot for in
An election official presenting a ballot for inspection during the vote counting after polling ended in Bangkok. Polling stations were open from 8am to 5pm local time (6pm Singapore time). PHOTO: REUTERS
Voters at a polling station in a local car service centre in the Huay Kwang district of Bangkok yesterday. Millions of Thais braved long queues and blistering heat to vote in the long-awaited elections. An election official presenting a ballot for in
A Royal Thai Army soldier standing guard at a polling station in the southern province of Narathiwat yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Left: Voters checking in at a polling station in Bangkok yesterday. Around 51 million Thais were eligible to vote, casting a single ballot for their preferred constituency candidates. Right: Voters casting their ballots in Bangkok's Thawiwit School y
Voters checking in at a polling station in Bangkok yesterday. Around 51 million Thais were eligible to vote, casting a single ballot for their preferred constituency candidates. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Left: Voters checking in at a polling station in Bangkok yesterday. Around 51 million Thais were eligible to vote, casting a single ballot for their preferred constituency candidates. Right: Voters casting their ballots in Bangkok's Thawiwit School y
Voters casting their ballots in Bangkok's Thawiwit School yesterday.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Across the country, voters brave traffic, haze and even illness to make their voice heard

From poor farmers in the northern province of Chiang Mai to glamorous celebrities in Bangkok to a blushing bride in the southern province of Satun, millions of voters streamed into voting booths across Thailand yesterday to elect their future leaders.

They have waited eight years for the election, which pits the military-backed government against veteran opposition parties.

Across the country, temples, schools and government offices were turned into polling stations, numbering 93,200 in 77 provinces, including Bangkok.

Around 51 million Thais were eligible to vote, casting a single ballot for their preferred constituency candidates.

The same ballot would also be used to determine a separate list of allocated seats to each party.

The Election Commission estimated a voter turnout of about 80 per cent, about an hour before the polls closed.

Polling stations, which were open from 8am, closed at 5pm local time (6pm Singapore time).

  • Thailand's turbulent political history

  • BANGKOK • Violent demonstrations, multiple coups and a cryptic election eve message from the King. Thailand's unpredictable political history has few rivals. The country's elections yesterday were the first since a 2014 coup. Here is a brief look at two turbulent decades in Thai politics.

    2001: Policeman-turned-billionaire telecoms magnate Thaksin Shinawatra wins at the elections, promising social welfare schemes.

    2003: A brutal war on drugs kills upwards of 2,500 people. A year later, a crackdown in the Muslim-majority deep south sparks a renewed insurgency.

    2005: Thaksin repeats electoral triumph, heading up the first civilian administration to complete a four-year term in a history rattled by army takeovers.

    2006: While at the United Nations in New York, Thaksin is toppled in a bloodless coup. A period of protests and violent clashes ensues, and historians dub the prolonged instability the "Lost Decade".

    2008: Thaksin is convicted in absentia on corruption charges that he says are politically motivated, and flees into self-exile.

    Anti-Thaksin protesters known as the "Yellow Shirts" storm Bangkok's airports, shutting them down for more than a week to protest against a Thaksin ally as premier - who is soon removed.

    Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva becomes prime minister after a parliamentary vote.

    2009: Pro-Thaksin "Red Shirts" storm a regional summit hosted by Thailand, demanding elections and forcing participants to flee by helicopter and boat.

    2010: More than 90 people are killed as the army - led by current junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha - opens fire on Red Shirts protesting in downtown Bangkok.

    2011: Fresh elections in 2011 see Thaksin's younger sister Yingluck emerge as Thailand's first female prime minister.

    2014: Anti-Yingluck demonstrators hold months-long protests that turn violent. A snap 2014 election is annulled, and the military seizes power.

    2016: Junta leader Prayut oversees a crackdown on dissent and wins a referendum to change the Constitution.

    Thailand mourns the death of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was seen as a figure of unity over a seven-decade reign.

    2017: Yingluck flees the country to avoid negligence charges and joins her brother in self-exile.

    2018: The junta announces elections for 2019 after repeated delays, lifting hopes as new parties emerge.

    2019: Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn shuts down the shock prime ministerial candidacy of older sister Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, who stood for the Thaksin-linked Thai Raksa Chart party.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Many voters were excited, saying that they had been closely monitoring news of the country's political developments on television and social media. Some had even dressed up for the occasion.

Rice farmer Nonglak Boonbamlue, from the north-eastern province of Ubon Ratchathani, had ditched her wide-brimmed straw hat for a more formal long-sleeved shirt and slacks - and a swipe of brightly coloured lipstick. She then zipped to the village polling station on her motorcycle.

"Normally, I do not put lipstick but today, I wear red-orange colour lipstick," the 44-year-old told The Straits Times. "Actually I feel a little sick and dizzy, but I am so afraid to lose my opportunity to vote. So, after voting, I rode my motorcycle to the doctor."

"It felt good to have voted but now, I worry that the party I like will lose," she added.

 
 
 
 
 

In the country's north and northeastern regions, the stronghold of the main opposition Pheu Thai party linked to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, voters trooped out of their homes in face masks to shield themselves from the haze unleashed by open burning as farmers prepare for the next planting season.

Wearing a face mask, book editor Pote Kritkraiwan, 49, braved the hazy air in Chiang Mai to cast his ballot because he wanted to make his voice heard.

"I dashed to the polling station and returned quickly because it is not good to stay out in the open for too long," he said.

"I want to change things for the better and treasure my right to vote. This election is very important because it is like releasing all my frustrations with all the wrong things happening in the country now. I hope the election will bring about reforms and equality."

In the southern province of Satun, Muslim bride Wissanee Changlek had posted a photograph of her-self on Facebook in a flowing white dress and matching veil casting her ballot, snaring nearly 10,000 likes, 8,300 shares and more than 900 comments.

"I want a husband, and I also want to vote," she wrote.

Ms Sahariah Tehae, a teacher in the Muslim-majority Yala province in the south, said 20 people were already in the queue at the mosque when voting opened at 8am.

"Two old people had difficulty walking, but everyone helped them along as they walked to the voting booths," she said.

While many voters took buses, cars and motorcycles, former local administrator Surapol Polchim opted for an unusual mode of transport by riding his horse named Sam to a polling station in Nakhon Ratchasima's Phimai district.

He told local media that he used to ride the horse to patrol his neighbourhood.

In Bangkok, voters and candidates had also risen early yesterday to cast their votes.

Wearing a striped shirt and sunglasses, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha - and also the sole prime ministerial candidate nominated by the pro-government Palang Pracharath Party - voted at Phya Thai district, and told reporters he would be monitoring the election results from his home.

Eighty political parties are vying for the 500 seats in the House of Representatives, which comprises 350 elected from constituencies and another 150 from a party-list system.

At a car service centre which was turned into a polling station in Bangkok's Huay Kwang district, voters began trickling in 30 minutes before polling started.

Household goods shop owner Prapai Kunwitpaisarn, 63, the first to arrive, said she will be voting for a government that will improve the economy and maintain peace and order.

Another voter, flower seller Lamduan Boonsri, 62, said she had never missed an election.

Having to get around in a wheelchair after her leg was crushed in a car accident was not a good excuse to skip voting, she said.

With fire in her eyes and ice in her words, she added: "I have to choose the person I like. The one who has made achievements and is a good person."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2019, with the headline 'Millions of Thais queue to vote for first time in eight years'. Print Edition | Subscribe