BANGKOK - Hundreds of thousands of voters across Thailand headed out on Sunday (March 17) to cast early ballots, a week ahead the country's first general election since a military coup in 2014.
They will have a single ballot to cast for their preferred constituency candidate. The ballot will also count as a vote for the candidate's party in a separate list of seats up for grabs.
Around 2.6 million of over 51 million eligible voters have registered to vote outside their home constituencies in Thailand. They include over 928,000 who will cast their votes at 58 polling stations in the capital Bangkok.
In Bangkapi district, which recorded the highest number of registered early voters, at 61,401, queues started to form as early as 6am, two hours before voting opened.
First-time voter Naree Wangwan, 24, was the first in line at Banbangkapi high school, which has been turned into a polling station. "I was so excited I woke up at 4am to take the bus and avoid the traffic jam," the trainee teacher told The Straits Times.
"I'm here because I want to do my part to make a change in the country. I want better economy, public transportation, and education. There's still much inequality," she added.
Mechanic Plern Somphet, 47, from the north-eastern province of Buriram province, came to vote with his wife.
"I have been waiting for election for so long, I really want to vote," he said. "I want the government to improve the economy and (ensure) there are no more fights in our country," he added.
Prem Tinsulanonda, the 98-year-old powerful president of the Privy Council, also voted on Sunday despite his frail health.
The former premier, who served as Regent after the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016, arrived in a wheelchair at the polling station at Sukhothai School on Sukhothai Road in Dusit district. It was his first public appearance after reportedly being hospitalised recently, The Nation newspaper said.
With an oxygen tube in his nostrils, he waved and smiled to reporters but made no remarks, the report said. He was able to stand long enough to drop his ballot in the box.
As part of voting regulations, alcohol sale and distribution have been suspended and political parties are not allowed to campaign close to the polling stations. Police have also been deployed to secure voting venues and manage traffic.
Advance voting will run from 8am to 5pm (9am to 6pm Singapore time) at designated polling stations, but no results will be announced on Sunday.
Registered early voters who fail to turn up will not be eligible to vote on March 24, the first general election since the junta seized power in 2014. Then army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha led the coup that toppled the Pheu Thai Party-led government and took over as prime minister.