BANGKOK – Thailand’s election season has officially begun, following the dissolution of Parliament as ordered by a decree in the Royal Gazette on Monday.
The decree, submitted by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha last week for royal endorsement, paves the way for a general election expected to take place in May.
“This is to return the political decision-making power to the people as soon as possible, so that democratic rule with the King as head of state can continue,” said the decree.
The Election Commission has tentatively set the date at May 7, but May 14 is another possible date. Election law stipulates that the vote must take place between 45 and 60 days after the dissolution. The commission will announce the confirmed date within five days.
Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Mr Prayut thanked the coalition government, saying its work has benefited the public. Asked if he was satisfied with his administration’s work, Mr Prayut said: “I cannot answer this question myself, you must ask the people.”
By dissolving the House early, before its four-year term ends on March 23, political parties will have more time to attract and recruit members. This also gives politicians looking to party-hop more time to pick their allegiances.
This is ultimately advantageous for the newer parties, like Mr Prayut’s Ruam Thai Sang Chart party, also known as the United Thai Nation (UTN) party in English, which has been trying to shore up high-level candidates to help the party pull votes.
If Parliament’s term had been allowed to end on March 23, a party would have been allowed to field only candidates who have been its members for at least 90 days.
By calling for an early dissolution, the membership threshold is shortened to 30 days.
Mr Prayut and his Cabinet will now be a caretaker government with limited powers until a new administration is sworn in.
Mr Prayut, who took the reins in 2014 after staging a military coup, is seeking a return to the role after parting ways with the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) in December 2022.
The PPRP, which leads the ruling coalition, had backed Mr Prayut for the premiership in the 2019 national polls. It will now field its leader, Mr Prawit Wongsuwan, as its sole PM candidate.
The UTN was set up in 2021, purportedly as a vehicle to support Mr Prayut’s re-election bid, and it is expected to nominate him for the premiership.
Mr Prayut is playing an active role in election campaigning for the first time, and has been making appearances at rallies in various provinces like Songkla, Nakhon Ratchasima and Chiang Mai.
There are 500 MP seats up for grabs in the polls, which will determine Parliament’s Lower House. This chamber has 400 constituency seats that will go to candidates with the most votes in each district, while 100 party-list seats are distributed based on a formula that takes into account a party’s national vote share.
Each party must win at least 25 of the 500 MP seats available to get their PM nominee on the ballot. Parliament, which includes the elected MPs and senators, will then take a vote.
Opinion polls have not been in Mr Prayut’s favour, with most of the surveys conducted by public and private organisations showing him lagging behind the opposition Pheu Thai Party’s possible candidate, Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra, who is the daughter of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Still, part of the 750-member parliamentary vote for the post rests heavily on the 250 junta-appointed senators, and the fate of a Pheu Thai PM nominee getting chosen remains uncertain.