BANGKOK - Pheu Thai, a political party linked to exiled tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, led with 137 of 350 constituency seats in an initial tally, followed by the military-backed Palang Pracharath party with 97 seats, according to data released by the Election Commission of Thailand on Monday (March 25).
The count, which did not include 150 party-list seats, showed that both major parties would need to form a coalition to take power in the 500-member lower house of parliament.
The youthful Future Forward Party, a new party with a stridently anti-junta stance, bagged 30 constituency seats, according to preliminary figures released by the commission.
The Democrats, the traditional favourites of Bangkok voters, won only 33 constituency seats. The poor showing had forced former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down from his position as Democrat leader on Sunday.
The Election Commission released unofficial results of Sunday's landmark poll at 4pm (5pm Singapore time) on Monday, amid allegations of election irregularities. It said that initial vote counts were accurate even though its computers were attacked, Bloomberg said.
Official results will not be known until May 9, several days after the coronation ceremony for King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
In a brief press conference early on Monday afternoon, commission secretary-general Jarungwit Phumma attributed conflicting vote count figures released on Sunday night to "human error", and pledged to investigate all irregularities if the evidence was strong enough.
The commission called off the release of results at the last minute on Sunday night.
On Monday, the Pheu Thai party - which is estimated to have bagged the most number of seats in the Lower House - issued a statement demanding a probe into some three million "ghost" ballots that appeared in 10 provinces.
In Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai provinces, it alleged, the number of ballots cast exceeded the number of eligible voters by over 400,000 in each province. This phenomenon was detected in Bangkok as well, it alleged.
On Twitter, "Election Fraud" in the Thai language was a top-trending hashtag.
Pheu Thai's chief rival is the Palang Pracharath Party, which is aligned with the five-year-old military government and is trying to get prime minister and former coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha returned as premier.
According to the Election Commission's earlier tally, with 94 per cent of the votes counted, Palang Pracharath had secured 7.7 million votes and Pheu Thai 7.2 million. In third place was the Future Forward Party, with 5.3 million votes.
But it is the number of constituency seats held by each party, not total votes secured, that determines who will dominate the 500-seat House of Representatives.
Despite official tallies not being released yet earlier on Monday, both the pro-army Palang Pracharath and Thaksin-linked Pheu Thai parties had each claimed victory.
The Palang Pracharat party said on Monday it aims to form a government after winning the most votes, Reuters reported, with party spokesman Kobsak Pootrakool saying the party expects to gather 251 seats in the 500-seat House of Representatives to form a government.
"Palang Pracharat will talk to like-minded parties who share the same ideology and standpoint to move the country forward, which will take a while," Mr Kobsak told reporters.
Meanwhile Bloomberg reported on Monday that Pheu Thai said they would seek to form a government after the party won the most seats in the election and the military-appointed Senate should follow the wishes of voters, according to comments from Sudarat Keyuraphan, the party's candidate for prime minister.
"We'll try to form a government coalition right away because that's how people voted," Ms Sudarat said. "We stood by our position that we won't support the continuation of the military regime."
Under the Constitution introduced after the 2014 coup, 250 appointed senators, mostly handpicked by the junta will vote jointly with the elected 500 Lower House members on their choice of prime minister.
To wield power in Parliament, a party or coalition must secure at least 376 seats, representing more than half of the 750 combined Lower House and Senate seats.
With most of the 250 Senate seats already aligned with the junta, this means that pro-Prayut parties need only muster another 126 seats in the election in order get him chosen as premier.
Analysts warn, however, that this arrangement throws policymaking into uncertain territory, as a minority government may struggle to get future laws passed.
Pheu Thai belongs to a political faction linked to deposed and fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra which has won every election since 2001. Royalist military factions, however, revile him for his populist policies mostly targeted at the populous upcountry regions.
This bitter divide had consumed the Kingdom until recently, with the entry of some seven million first-time voters with faint memory of the past turmoil.
On the eve of Thailand's first election in eight years, the Royal Household Bureau issued a statement urging Thais to support "good people".