Thai parliament’s dissolution starts countdown to May general election

Nontarat Phaicharoen
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Thai parliament’s dissolution starts countdown to May general election Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha speaks to the press after chairing the National Rice Policy and Administration Committee at Government House in Bangkok, March 20, 2023.
Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP

King Maha Vajiralongkorn granted a request by Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Thailand’s embattled prime minister and former junta chief, to dissolve parliament, signaling the kickoff of official campaigning for a general election in May.

The monarch’s signature on a decree submitted by Prayuth sealed the dissolution of parliament – effective March 20 – and started the countdown to national polls, which must be held within 45 to 60 days, according to an announcement Monday in the Royal Gazette.

Although it was widely expected that the vote would take place on Sunday, May 7, there now is the possibility it could be held instead on Sunday, May 14, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-Ngam told reporters.

“As the prime minister informed [the King] that the parliament has operated since 2019 and was entering its last year, deserving a dissolution for a new election … therefore the parliament is announced dissolved,” read an excerpt from the announcement in the Royal Gazette published online in the afternoon.

Prayuth, the former army chief who turns 69 on Tuesday, has seen his grip on power slip in recent years after he survived several parliamentary confidence votes

This head of a government dominated by ex-generals now faces a challenge to his power from Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon – a fellow former general and fellow contender in this year’s polls – as well as from contenders representing pro-democracy parties. These include Pheu Thai party politician Paetongtarn “Ung Ing” Shinawatra, the daughter of deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who leads Prayuth in opinion polls. 

Should Prayuth and his United Thai Nation Party emerge victorious after the May election, he could return as prime minister, but would have to vacate the post in April 2025 because of constitutional term limits. 

“Thank you very much, everyone. We will be together for a while,” Prayuth told reporters at Government House in Bangkok on Monday. 

“For the benefits of Thailand, I have no regrets. I’m the same person,” he said, as he bid the press corps farewell for the time being because a caretaker government was to take over during the electoral season and transition to the next government. 

Pheu Thai Party candidate Paethongtarn Shinawatra (left) speaks to fellow party members after a party meeting at the Pheu Thai Party headquarters in Bangkok, March 9, 2023. [Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP]

The upcoming election will occur close to the ninth anniversary of the day that Prayuth led a military coup that toppled Thaksin’s sister, then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Prayuth has stayed in power since but, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Thailand, he had to contend with massive anti-government protests that broke out and were led by young pro-democracy activists. The nation’s economic recovery from the pandemic, which battered most sectors, especially the lucrative tourism industry, is the main issue that the parties and contenders will be vying over to win votes.  

More than 52 million Thais will be eligible to vote on Election Day. They will be choosing their representatives from 400 parliamentary constituencies and 100 party-list hopefuls. The voters will cast two ballots – one for a constituency MP and one for their party of choice.

The pro-democracy Pheu Thai Party, with allies including the Move Forward Party, could win more than half of the 500 seats in parliament’s lower house to form a new government, according to polls.

But the opposition coalition likely would need support from members of the 250-seat Senate, who were hand-picked by Prayuth’s administration, to reach the 376-vote threshold to name the next government leader.

The Thai constitution was changed before the last election to allow the Senate, whose members are finishing their terms this year, to join lower house lawmakers in voting for the prime minister. This has spurred complaints that the upcoming nationwide polls could be skewed to favor the ruling party even if it lost the popular vote.

According to the latest survey conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), and whose results were released Sunday, the likely prime ministerial nominee for Pheu Thai, Ung Ing, who is 36 and pregnant, is comfortably ahead of Prayuth and the frontrunner, by 38.2% to 15.65%.

A businessman in Songkhla, a province in Thailand’s southern border region, said he was fed up with political turmoil and the 2014 military coup which, in his view, proved to be a failure in solving the nation’s troubles.  

“No more coups,” Somchai San-in, 55, told BenarNews. “I want a government that has transparency to govern the country, to seriously tackle corruption and to make people’s livelihoods better.”    

Mariyam Ahmad in Pattani, Thailand, contributed to this report.


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