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Thailand - March 2019 Election

On 23 January 2019 the government announced that the long-awaited election would be held on 24 March 2019. The military government, which came to power after a 2014 coup, has promised to hold an election between February and May 2019, following repeated delays on the grounds of constitutional and legislative steps needed ahead of a vote. There will be no delays to a general election planned in Thailand for 2019, the deputy prime minister said on 03 October 2018, amid the concerns of government critics and the opposition that it could be pushed back. "If you ask whether the election will be delayed, well, it is only others who are saying this, not the government," Gen Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters. "We are still looking at February 24."

A general election based on the new constitution could have come as early as August 2017, but that did not happen.

Thailand's interim Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said 10 October 2017 the country will likely have a general election in November 2018. Prayut told reporters on Tuesday that the government will announce the date for the election around June 2018. This was the first indication of an election timeframe since the military coup in 2014. The interim government has repeatedly put off the election as it drafted a new constitution that went into effect in April. But observers think there is still a long way to go before democracy is restored, as the new constitution says that for the first 5 years, all senators will be appointed by a military-backed council.

The year 2018 was shaping up to be a landmark year for Thailand. The Head ofthe National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) stated on 10 October 2017 that the general election would be held in November 2018. A new king will be crowned and the military government is planning to hold elections - signalling a return to democracy after a coup three years ago. The promulgation on 6 April 2017 of Thailands new Constitution stated that general elections shall take place within 150 days after four required organic laws were promulgated.

However, according to the new constitution, 250 senators picked by the military will be empowered to vote for a new prime minister along with 500 elected members of the House of Representatives, which means the new prime minister may not come from the party that wins the majority seats in the House of Representatives. The new general election could be a banquet for small political parties and many new parties are likely to be established before the election.

So far, no official date has been set for the countrys parliamentary election. Thai Prime Minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha had previously said that the election would most likely be in November this year. The last general election in Thailand took place in February 2014 and was overshadowed by political unrest. The election result was nullified on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. The national army seized power in May of the same year and there has not been another general election since.

Thailand's former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, younger sister of influential former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, secretly left the country before the Supreme Court sentenced her to five years in prison. Thailand's Supreme Court in September 2017 found Yingluck guilty of malfeasance in a loss-ridden subsidy program.

The former female leader is still at large following her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's steps. Thaksin has been the core person in a decade of political conflicts in Thailand after the military overthrew his government in 2006. The red shirts, who followed Thaksin and the yellow shirts who are against Thaksin, have always taken to the streets since then when the opposite side was in power.

Who is going to lead the Pheu Thai Party, which won the last election, to campaign in the promised 2018 general election still remains unknown. There have been some growing signs that current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who always doubted and criticized former political systems, might extend his stay in power. The EU Council reaffirmed 11 December 2017 the importance it attacheed to EU relations with Thailand. The Council was appreciative of the constructive role which Thailand played as the current country coordinator for EU - ASEAN Dialogue Relations.

The Council reiterateed its call for the urgent restoration of the democratic process in Thailand through credible and inclusive elections and the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Council recalled with concern that political and civil rights and liberties had been severely curtailed in Thailand following the 2014 military coup. Freedom of expression and assembly remained highly restricted through a number of laws and Orders of the NCPO. Furthermore, civil society activists and human rights defenders continued to face judicial harassment. The Council stresseed the importance of such basic freedoms being restored as Thailand proceeded towards democracy, and reiterated the importance it attached to the role of civil society in a functioning democracy. In this regard, the EU would continue to support civil society organisations and human rights defenders.

The Council decided to resume political contacts at all levels with Thailand in order to facilitate meaningful dialogue on issues of mutual importance, including on human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the road towards democracy.

Thailand's military-led government faced growing criticism for again delaying the next general election that is supposed to return the country to civilian rule, at least nominally. The military junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), had been in power since May 2014, and set out a "political roadmap" for elections that were first set to take place in 2016. The prime minister, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, then set the date in November before the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly pushed the date back to February 2019.

Criticism mounted, with foreign diplomats joining a chorus of protests that included Thai NGOs and opposition groups. "The number of times now they have delayed this election; basically it went from one year to two years to three years to four years. It's just too much and people have lost patience," said Chris Baker, a commentator and author on Thai politics. Baker said a weak domestic economy is also undermining support for the government and adding to the climate of discontent. Also eroding the government's support is a scandal involving the deputy prime minister, Prawit Wongsawon, who has touched off a firestorm of public criticism for wearing luxurious watches estimated to be valued at more than $1.2 million.

The new general election would be a banquet for small political parties and many new parties are likely to be established before the election. More than 100 new political parties were expected to launch within weeks after registration opened 28 February 2018. Coup-makers in Thailand have often set up political parties and contested the following election, in apparent bids to extend their stay in power. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a 39-year-old billionaire, executive vice president and director of the Thai Summit Group, launched the Future Forward Party on 15 March 2018. The scion of Thailands biggest autoparts group promised to bridge festering political divides and provide an alternative to established parties.

Yingluck Shinawatra led the Pheu Thai Party, the successor of Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai Party in the 2011 general election and won a landslide victory, though her government was overthrown by the military in 2014 during a political crisis. The new leader of the pro-Thakin wing remains unclear, but some experts point out that the changes needed for the Pheu Thai Party to win the next general election promised to be held in 2018 seem rather small. Pheu Thai politicians were initially split as to whether Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan should become the next party leader. Sudarat had the backing of many Pheu Thai politicians in northeastern provinces.

Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi on 08 February 2019 broke with tradition, entering military-ruled Thailand's politics by becoming the prime ministerial candidate. The elder sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn was declared the prime ministerial candidate for a party loyal to deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a March 24 general election.

The unprecedented move to nominate Princess Ubolratana, 67, broke the long-standing tradition of Thai royalty staying out of direct participation in politics. The monarchy had stayed above all political frays. Beyond setting a precedent, Princess Ubolratanas nomination also confirms her close ties with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which he said had long been an open secret.

Despite having spent much of her life breaking royal norms and protocols, marrying an American and singing pop songs on talent shows, entering politics was seen as Ubolratana's boldest move yet. While Ubolratana is afforded royal privileges, she has cultivated a more accessible image than her reserved younger brother - the new King - and shown a knack for reading the sentiments of ordinary Thais. Princess Ubolratana Mahidol reassured on 08 February 2019 that she is constitutionally a commoner who has decided to run for prime minister in the March 24 election. The princess gave reassurances that she had taken the rights and freedom of a commoner under the constitution to accept nomination as candidate for prime minister by Thai Raksa Chart (Thais protect country) Party. The princess commented online that she will by no means take any privileges while contesting the election. She reconfirmed that she relinquished herself of royal titles in 1972 and have legally become a commoner since. On the same day, Thai Raksa Chart also confirmed the princess is a commoner and is fully eligible to run for the prime minister after a party asked the Election Commission to check whether it is rightful to nominate a member of the royal family, as an election campaign will involve using the princess' portraits which may be against the election rules.

With her unprecedented candidacy, Ubolratana was set to face off against the leader of the ruling military government, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who announced his candidacy. Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha accepted the nomination by the Palang Pracharath Party as its candidate for prime minister in the upcoming general election. The Palang Pracharath Party is jointly formed by four former ministers from Prayut's cabinet. The name Palang Pracharath stands for "power of the people's state."

Prayut's chances of returning as premier were getting "smaller and smaller", Puangthong Pawakapan, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University, told the AFP news agency. "Just the idea that Prayut would not gain support from the palace in the upcoming election may cause him to lose popular legitimacy," Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University, said before the announcement as rumours swirled.

In Thailands deeply divided politics, Prayuth appealed to the royalist, military and middle-class opponents of Mr Thaksin, who is seen as a corrupt demagogue for policies that included subsidised healthcare and support for rice farmers. Both Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, and his sister, Ms Yingluck, forced from office in 2014, live in exile. Both have been convicted of corruption, which they deny. Thai Raksa Chart is an off-shoot of the Pheu Thai Party, formed by Thaksin loyalists.

But her younger brother King Vajiralongkorn objected. "Involvement of a high-ranking member of the royal family in politics, in whatever way, is an act that conflicts with the country's traditions, customs, and culture, and therefore considered extremely inappropriate," the king said.

Scarcely 24 hours after she amazed the country by announcing she her candidacy for prime minister, former Princess Ubolratana Mahidol dropped out of the race, following King Maha Vajiralongkorns royal command prohibiting his elder sister from running. The Thai Raksa Chart party would like to comply with the royal command, with full loyalty to His Majesty and all royal members, the party said. With Ubolratana out of the running, the junta leader, former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, became the front-runner. The March 24 election has been viewed as a straightforward battle between Thaksin's populists and their allies, on the one hand, and the royalist-military establishment on the other.

According to the new constitution, 250 senators picked by the military will be empowered to vote for a new prime minister along with 500 elected members of the House of Representatives, which means the new prime minister may not come from the party that wins the majority seats in the House of Representatives.

Preliminary official results released late 24 March 2019 showed that with 93 percent of ballots counted the military-backed Phalang Pracharat party was in the lead with about 7.6 million votes, short of what would be needed for a majority in parliament. In second place was the Pheu Thai party of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra with 7.1 million votes. The campaign was marred by allegations of vote buying, however, complaints were few on polling day with election observers from Australia, Canada, the United States and the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations on hand. Security was tight and opinions were mixed as about 52 million Thais voted.

Future Forward, led by the young entrepreneur Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, has been effective in attracting the youth vote with promises to end military conscription, and inclusive polices have endeared him to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The youth vote and the LGBT community number around seven million each. Combined, they share 25 percent of the total vote. But seat distribution and absolute military control of the Senate left General Prayuts Phalang Pracharat as the only likely clear winner.

The Election Commission unveiled a 95-percent poll results after the second delay within 24 hours. The EC said the delay was due to the complex computation between constituency-based MPs and that of party-list MPs. Full vote counts, which are needed to determine the allocation of 150 other seats in the House of Representatives, won't be available until 29 March 2019. Pro-military party Palang Pracharath won 97 constituency MP seats while the main pro-Thaksin party Pheu Thai got 137 constituency MP seats. According to the initial results, nine parties have entered the lower house. The anti-military party Future Forward won 30 constituency MP seats and the Democrat Party got 33 sewats. But voters deserted the Democrat Party, the country's oldest political party, in its Bangkok and southern strongholds. Its leader, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, resigned.

In the election, voters voted 350 members in the 500-seat House of Representatives, while 250 members in the Senate would be appointed by the armed forces. A joint session of both houses would elect the next prime minister. The new MPs will have nowhere to meet. King Vajiralongkorn appropriated the old parliament building, which stands on royal property, for some unspecified purpose that, under the countrys harsh lse-majest laws, no one dares question. The military junta has yet to finish building a new parliament house.

The magic number of seats parties or alliances need to secure to form a government is 376 50 percent plus one of the total number in the two houses of parliament. The country likely faced several weeks of bargaining among political parties before a potentially unstable coalition government is formed in May or June.

With the military choosing all Senate members, including seats reserved for six heads of different armed forces branches, pro-military parties would likely need to win only 126 seats in the House of Representatives to win a majority in a combined vote. Anti-junta parties, on the other hand, which cant count on any Senate votes, would need to win 376 seats lower house seats to gain a majority.

Thailand's Election Commission said 28 March 2019 the pro-army Palang Pracharat Party won the popular vote in Sunday's (March 24) general election with 8.4 million ballots. Krit Urwongse, deputy-secretary general of the Election Commission said the main opposition Pheu Thai Party, which was toppled in a military coup five years ago received 7.9 million votes. The commission did not announce the full number of seats for each party in the 500-seat House of Representatives.

Anti-junta parties, including those linked to ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, announced they would unite to form a pro-democracy coalition and thus create a majority in the lower house. Opposition party Pheu Thai originally founded by Thaksin seems to be well on the way its way achieving 255 representatives in the lower house of parliament out of 500 by forming the seven-party alliance. Though this would actually make way for the opposition to form a government, it would not allow the alliance to elect a prime minister: For that, the 250 military-loyal senators would also need to have a say.

Thailand's army chief, General Apirat Kongsompong, warned supporters of anti-military government parties, like Future Forward, and anyone who threatens Thailand's constitutional monarchy, to be cautious. He said 02 April 2019 that the military will do whatever is necessary to protect the country's "Thai-style democratic system". General Apirat said "The army does the army's duty, which is to protect, maintain, and defend the institutions of nation, religion, and monarchy".

Rising opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was summoned by police 05 April 2019 after army files complaint for 'disobedience'.Thanathorn, the rising opposition leader of Thailand's popular new political party, Future Forward, met police to address new sedition charges filed against him by government representatives for "causing disorder and disobedience among the public" that could lead to "the acts of rebellion".

Police also summoned prominent opposition activist, Nuttaa "Bow" Mahattana, and a local news commentator for VoiceTV, Sirote Klampaiboon, for allegedly conspiring to defame the Election Commission through their criticism online.

Thailand's Election Commission on 07 May 2019 endorsed results from the 24 March 2019 general election. The Pheu Thai party, associated with fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, led with 136 constituencies of the 350 won by direct vote. The commission said the rival military-backed Palang Pracharath party ran second with 97 seats. It was unclear who would form the next government, as both the top two competitors were seeking partners to achieve a parliamentary majority 255 seats. The remaining 150 so-called party list seats will be awarded based on a proportion of the overall nationwide vote derived from a complicated formula.

Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army commander staged the coup in 2014 and since then has served as prime minister, should easily be able to return to office. The prime minister is selected by a joint vote of the lower house and the appointed Senate, which represents conservative interests chosen by the junta. However, if his rivals controlled the lower house, he might have a hard time passing laws and getting budget approval.

In a further boost for Prayuth, the Election Commission changed a seat distribution formula after the March poll for the 500-member lower house, effectively reversing a projected majority for the anti-military government Democratic Front, and denying it the power to block legislation or stage no-confidence votes.

Thailand's new parliament elected military government chief Prayuth Chan-ocha as the country's prime minister on 05 June 2019, completing a transition from coup leader to head of a civilian government in a system seen tilted in his favor. He comfortably exceeded the 375-vote threshold in the two houses of parliament to give him the majority needed to fend off his sole challenger, a charismatic billionaire heading up the anti-military government coalition. Prayuth received 500 votes to 244 for Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of the Future Forward Party. The military-backed Palang Pracharat Party that nominated him as their prime ministerial candidate finished second in the March 24 general election. Prayuth's appointment became official when it was endorsed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

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