Paetongtarn Shinawatra Leads Polls as Country Heads Towards Election – The dissolving of Thailand’s parliament paves the door for a May election pitting military-affiliated candidates against the daughter of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. According to Monday’s announcement in the Royal Gazette, King Maha Vajiralongkorn has approved a decree dissolving parliament. A vote must be held between 45 and 60 days after the dissolution of the legislature.
The 68-year-old Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power in a 2014 coup, will fight for re-election under a new party, United Thai Nation. According to a judgement by the constitutional court, however, he is only permitted to serve for two more years before hitting the eight-year term limit.
In the polls, Prayuth is also lagging the opposition candidate Paetongtarn Shinawatra and her party, Pheu Thai. Paetongtarn, 36, who is expected to be nominated as Pheu Thai’s nominee, has stated that she is running a landslide campaign. In every election since 2001, parties affiliated with the billionaire Shinawatra family have won the most seats.
Paetongtarn’s aunt Yingluck was removed from office by a court judgement in 2014, while his father Thaksin was removed by a military coup in 2006. Thaksin and Yingluck both reside in exile. The family is despised by the royalist military elite, but remains immensely popular in northern and northern-eastern rural communities.
Thaksin’s former party, Thai Rak Thai, was the “only party that credibly proposed policies and delivered on these policy promises in a way that concretely improved the wellbeing of people on a large scale,” said Napon Jatusripitak, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. “It has an enduring impact on people’s political preferences.”
Even if Pheu Thai performs well, however, the party may not be able to put forward a prime minister. “Pheu Thai is the only party that currently stands a credible chance of forming a majority in the house, but it happens to be the least likely to secure the support of the senate,” said Napon.
The 250 senators nominated by the military join the 500 members of the House of Representatives in selecting the prime minister. Napon stated that the party would likely need to engage with existing political parties, whether they be in the opposition or the ruling coalition.
This could involve a deal with Prawit Wongsuwan, a former close associate of Prayuth who is now standing as the candidate of the ruling party, Palang Pracharath. Prawit, 77, has attempted to position himself as a candidate for national unity capable of bridging Thailand’s political differences.
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Several observers have also mentioned Anutin Charnvirakul, 56, leader of the Bhumjaithai party and current health minister, who advocated for the decriminalization of marijuana last year. May’s elections will be the first since major demonstrations organized by youth in 2020 rattled Thailand’s establishment by demanding that the monarchy’s powers be limited and the military-backed constitution be revised.
The protests ceased in 2021, when the government began filing legal cases, notably under the stringent lese-majesty law, which has a maximum prison penalty of 15 years. At least 1,890 individuals, including 284 minors under the age of 18, have been accused under different laws.