Pro-junta party picks up most votes in Thai election but opposition may win most seats

Supporters at the Pheu Thai headquarters in Bangkok reacting as results trickled in last night. It garnered seven million votes nationwide.
Supporters at the Pheu Thai headquarters in Bangkok reacting as results trickled in last night. It garnered seven million votes nationwide.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Pro-junta party wins most votes; sources say Pheu Thai leads in constituency seats

Thailand's first election in eight years threw up inconclusive results as a pro-military party trying to get Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to return as premier has won the most votes, but many unofficial sources show the former ruling Pheu Thai party bagging the most constituency seats.

At press time, the Election Commission had not disclosed the number of constituency seats won by each party among the 350 wards contested. But it revealed that with 92 per cent of votes counted, Palang Pracharath had bagged 7.5 million votes nationwide, followed by Pheu Thai, which won seven million votes. Future Forward Party took third place with 5.2 million votes.

State broadcaster MCOT, using preliminary tallies, showed that Pheu Thai had performed the best at the constituency level, winning 124 seats. It was trailed by Palang Pracharath with 95 seats, followed by Bhumjaithai Party with 39 seats.

Former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday stepped down as leader of the Democrat Party after its poor showing, winning 33 seats, according to MCOT.

According to election rules, another 150 seats in Thailand's Lower House will be allocated according to the share of votes which each party gets.

Even if Pheu Thai party emerged the biggest winner in yesterday's general election, it remains a question whether it can form the next government.

On the eve of the election, the Royal Household Bureau released an unprecedented statement on behalf of King Maha Vajiralongkorn asking voters to choose their leaders carefully. It cited a 1969 speech by the monarch's father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, to support "good people" and prevent "bad people" from gaining the power to create chaos.

 
 
 
 

Urging Thais to follow these principles, it said: "His Majesty is concerned about the country's security, and the feelings and happiness of the people." The statement was broadcast again on television minutes before voting started at 8am.

Pheu Thai's de facto leader Sudarat Keyuraphan said yesterday: "We will work with those who oppose the junta in extending its power, and against General Prayut."

She added: "Whatever the result is, it is the people's right to choose whom they want to run this country… the top-scoring party should be the one which forms the government."

Voters cast their ballot after nearly five years of military rule under former coup leader and current premier Prayut. The retired general was seeking to come back as a civilian premier nominated by the pro-military Palang Pracharath party.

Parties will likely now race to knit together coalitions to command a parliamentary majority.

But the rules are heavily tilted in Mr Prayut's favour. In the 750-seat Parliament, most of the 250 senators will be chosen by the ruling junta.

This means that parties supporting Mr Prayut need only muster 126 seats in the Lower House to get the minimum 376 seats to control Parliament.

 
 
 

Negotiations to hammer out a governing coalition could take months, say analysts.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Pitch Pongsawat told The Straits Times: "If Palang Pracharath forms a government, it will be a very unstable government. They will need extra-parliamentary power to keep them in power."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2019, with the headline 'No clear winner emerges from Thai polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe