Old rivalries and new battles begin as Thailand heads to polls

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand holds general elections on Sunday in hopes of handing rebels a major victory, at the center of two decades of intermittent turmoil in the coup-prone country. The determination of the pro-military system will be tested.

Some 52 million voters are among a progressive opposition with a knack for winning elections and an opposition allied with royalist generals eager to maintain the status quo after nine years of military-led or military-backed government. are choosing from

Opinion polls show the opposition Pheu Thai Party and Progressive Party are expected to win the most seats, but which will win power due to parliamentary rules created by the military after the 2014 coup and biased in favor of the military. There is no guarantee that it will.

The election will see the billionaire Shinawatra family, the driving force behind the Pheu Thai Party, and the old money, military and conservative ties with influence over key institutions that overthrew three of the populist movement’s four governments. will be in conflict again.

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The seeds of conflict were sown in 2001. Cheeky capitalist upstart Thaksin Shinawatra empowered disenfranchised rural masses, challenged patron networks and pitted Thailand’s established elite on a pro-poor, pro-business platform It’s time to seize power.

Urban middle-class critics viewed him as a corrupt agitator who abused his position to build his own power base and further enrich his family. Massive protests broke out in Bangkok during his second term.

In 2006 the army overthrew Thaksin and he fled into exile. Eight years later, his sister Yingluck’s government suffered the same fate. He is now replaced by his daughter, political novice Phaethongtharn Shinawatra.

From dictatorship to democracy

“May 14th will be a historic day. We will change from a dictatorship to a democratically elected government,” Petongtarn said on Friday as the crowd cheered at the Pheu Thai Party’s final rally. spoke to

“Every time we hold power, we can bring prosperity to our people. I entered politics to support new generations and to support their families.”

The populist approach of the Pheu Thai Party and its predecessors has been so successful that rivals once derided as vote-seekers have now come up with strikingly similar policies.

Military-backed Paran Pracharat has promised 30,000 baht ($890) per capita stipend to 7.5 million farmers, providing benefits for the elderly and infrastructure projects in Thailand’s poorest regions. increase significantly.

The Unification of Thailand, led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, who led the coup d’état against Thailand’s last serving government, promised debt relief, cheap electricity for low-income earners, and subsidies for transport and agricultural harvests.

Prayut has been urging the campaign to continue, hoping to attract conservative middle-class voters who are tired of street protests and political turmoil.

“We don’t want change that will turn the country upside down. Can we accept it? Do you know what damage it will do?” he asked his supporters on Friday.

Some analysts say Thailand’s power struggle is more than a grudge fight between the polarizing Shinawatra clan and influential rivals, amid signs of a generational shift and a hunger for a more progressive government. claim to be of

Led by Harvard graduate Pita Rimjaroenrat, 42, Move Forward has seen rapid growth recently. Support plans to dismantle monopolies, undermine the military’s political role, and reform draconian laws banning monarchical insults that critics say are being used to stifle dissent. We expect young people, including the 3.3 million first-time voters, to vote.

“This election will test the future of conservative roots and progressives,” said Ben Kiatkwankle, a partner at Maverick Consulting Group, a government affairs advisory firm.

“The problem is bigger than whether people love or hate Thaksin and Prayuth. Now the problem is that the old regime is facing a wave of liberalism.”

(Reporting: Chayut Setboonsarng, Writing: Martin Petty, Editing: William Mallard)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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