Thais go to the polls on Sunday, but senators could be the kingmakers
BANGKOK,. Some 52 million eligible voters in Thailand will go to the polls on Sunday in a tight race where the outcome remains unpredictable, with the 250 senators appointed by prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha could well be the kingmakers.
The May 14 election is the battleground between democratic allies and pro-military parties, and is the first to take place since the youth-led mass protests of 2020 and only the second since the military coup in 2014 that witnessed the removal of an elected government.
The Pheu Thai party, which is linked to Thailand’s self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is leading in the opinion polls and is aiming for a landslide victory in the upcoming election on Sunday. Its leader Paetongtarn Shinawatra, 36, Thaksin’s daughter, is also the leading prime ministerial candidate.
Besides that, another opposition leader – Move Forward Party leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, 42, also emerged as the favourite prime ministerial candidate in recent opinion polls.
Prayuth, who took power in the 2014 coup and led Thailand for more than eight years is seeking a fresh term, but appears lagging behind in the race. He is the prime ministerial candidate for the United Thai Nation Party (also known as Ruam Thai Sang Chart).
It is too early to predict the outcome as winning the most number of seats in Sunday’s election does not necessarily guarantee any political party or coalition that it will be able to form a new government.
“Pheu Thai Party will win the election for sure. However, the junta-appointed 250 senators will still have a say in the selection of prime minister.
“It is doubtful that any candidate who is not pro-junta will become the Prime Minister,” Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Thailand’s Naresuan University told Bernama.
Chambers added that the post election political deal making will decide the winner in this election.
“May 14 election does not decide everything. After the poll, there will be a great deal of negotiations among parties that will determine the next prime minister,” he said.
The next prime minister will be selected by the newly elected 500-seat lower house members and the 250-seat Senate which was appointed previously by Prayuth’s government. The senator’s terms will be up in May of next year.
Meanwhile, Chambers said both Pheu Thai and Move Forward Party are vying for the votes from those opposed to the pro-military parties.
“But Pheu Thai and Move Forward should have long ago agreed not to nominate candidates in the same polling district so that they do not end up splitting the vote of progressive voters,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bandit Aroman of International Islamic Bangkok, Krirk University, said the Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties were expected to win the majority of the 500 seats in the upcoming election.
However, he said when it comes to selecting a prime minister a coalition would need to secure at least 376 out of 750 votes in parliament.
However, taking into account the 250-member senate appointed by Prayuth, Aroman expressed doubt that the senate would support a prime ministerial candidate from the opposition.
“Due to the influence of the junta-appointed senators as well as post election deal making, it could result in Prayuth being chosen as the prime minister,” he said.
Bandit said high voter turnout would be a key factor for the opposition victory.
“In this upcoming election, political parties are urging voters to take responsibility for their vote. A higher voter turnout could potentially benefit the opposition parties in their bid to win more seats in the election,” he said.
For the same reason Pita is hopeful that Thais will create ‘historical turnout’ on Sunday.
“I hope that the Thai people will exercise their democratic right and show their voice by coming out to vote,” he said.
Not only the election outcome on Sunday will be interesting to watch, but also the post election deal making and whether the senators will side the people or the military after the election.