Thailand holds provincial elections in fresh test of democracy

A woman casting her vote at a polling station in Prachuap Khiri Khan province yesterday. Polling officials reported a steady voter turnout. PHOTO: REUTERS People looking for their names on voter lists at a polling station in Prachuap Khiri Khan provi
People looking for their names on voter lists at a polling station in Prachuap Khiri Khan province in Thailand yesterday. The polls in the 76 provinces outside the capital Bangkok are the first in years.PHOTO: REUTERS
A woman casting her vote at a polling station in Prachuap Khiri Khan province yesterday. Polling officials reported a steady voter turnout. PHOTO: REUTERS People looking for their names on voter lists at a polling station in Prachuap Khiri Khan provi
A woman casting her vote at a polling station in Prachuap Khiri Khan province yesterday. Polling officials reported a steady voter turnout. PHOTO: REUTERS

NONTHABURI • Thais voted nationwide yesterday in provincial elections that mark the first test of democracy since a general election last year that drew accusations of manipulation and helped spawn months of youth protests.

The elections in Thailand's 76 provinces outside the capital Bangkok are the first since Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who stayed in power after last year's ballot, overthrew an elected government in a military coup.

"It's my duty to vote," said 27-year-old bank worker Korkiet Akaraparn, voting in his first provincial election in Nonthaburi, in the outskirts of Bangkok. "I hope there will be new people from this election who bring change."

Polling officials reported a steady turnout despite Thailand's biggest daily surge in coronavirus cases on Saturday in a province outside of Bangkok. The polls closed at 5pm.

Among the parties putting up candidates is the Progressive Movement, which has its roots in the now banned Future Forward Party of Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. Mr Thanathorn had emerged as the most vocal challenger to Mr Prayut.

When he and his party were banned from politics, it prompted protests demanding the removal of Mr Prayut, a new Constitution and reforms to the powerful monarchy.

Mr Prayut rejects accusations that he engineered the general election to stay in power. Although the party backing him in Parliament is not formally putting up candidates in the provincial elections, contestants in races across the country are making clear their loyalty to his camp.

The elections are also a test for the Pheu Thai Party linked to populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. It remains the largest opposition party in Thailand's Parliament.

Thaksin, who rarely comments in public from self-exile since being overthrown in 2006, has posted on Twitter to encourage people to support the party ahead of provincial elections, in which powerful families traditionally hold local sway.

Mr Charoen Buaperm, 60, said: "I voted for candidates who are relatives of the former chief."

Provincial administrations are responsible for the provision of local services and development plans, and run their own budgets.

The Progressive Movement seeks to devolve more power to provinces from Bangkok, which is not yet holding its own local election.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2020, with the headline 'Thailand holds provincial elections in fresh test of democracy'. Subscribe