Partial preliminary results in Thailand’s general election held on Sunday showed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha’s Palang Pracharat military proxy party had a slight statistical lead over the Peua Thai party he overthrew in a 2014 coup. The Election Commission said final results would be announced on Monday afternoon, not Sunday night, as initially indicated. 

The Election Commission’s Facebook page indicated that with 92.5% of the vote counted Palang Pracharat led with 7.5 million votes, outpacing Peua Thai’s 7.05 million. The upstart, anti-junta Future Forward tracked in third with 5 million votes, according to the Election Commission’s Facebook page.  

The partial tally did not indicate how many lower house seats either party had won of the 500 up for grabs. Nor did the Election Commission elaborate on its decision to delay the final result’s announcement.  

The elections, the first held in the kingdom since a 2014 democracy-suspending coup and after nearly five years of strongman military rule, were held to determine the make-up of parliament’s 500-member lower house, consisting of 350 constituency seats and 150 party list seats. 

A military-appointed 250-member Senate, to be seated in late April, will also vote for the next premier, giving Prayut and his PPRP a distinct edge to head the next government, particularly if Sunday’s announced partial results hold up on Monday’s final announcement.  

If Thailand indeed voted Palang Pracharat over Peua Thai, it would represent a shock result amid widespread perceptions Prayut’s ruling junta had lost popularity and lacked the election machinery to compete at a national level. 

Peua Thai party’s candidate for prime minister Sudarat Keyuraphan during voting at her local polling station voting in Bangkok, March, 24, 2019. Photo: AFP Forum via NurPhoto/ Anusak Laowilas

Most analysts, observers and polls expected Peua Thai to prevail convincingly, winning in its traditional geographical strongholds in the country’s vote-rich north and northeastern regions. 

One exit poll, conducted by Thai research center Super Poll and cited widely by media, predicted Peua Thai would win 163 seats while Palang Pracharat would notch a mere 96. The poll predicted the Democrats would place third at 77 seats followed by Bhumjaithai at 59 and Future Forward at 40. 

The Elect Live website, which tracked constituency-by-constituency vote counts in real time on election day, showed Peua Thai was leading Palang Pracharat by 129 to 117 predicted seats with 64% of the vote tallied as of late Sunday night. The same site showed Peua Thai leading overwhelmingly in the northeast and slightly in the north with the same 64% of votes counted. 

Palang Pracharat dedicated significant resources and lured many politicians away from the Democrats and Peua Thai in the vote-rich north and swing central regions. Elect Live showed the military party leading Peua Thai strongly in the central region by 48 to 23 predicted seats with 68% of the vote counted. But Palang Pracharat apparently enjoyed a late surge in overall votes to outpace Peua Thai as indicated by its official lead with 92.5% of votes counted.  

Democrat leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced he would resign his position late on Sunday to take responsibility for his party’s apparent poor showing. He had earlier vowed to step aside if the party failed to win 100 seats. Palang Pracharat’s apparent strong performance in areas the Democrats traditionally carried would, if officially validated, mark a significant electoral shift away from the previously second-ranking party. 

So, too, would the apparent strong performance of Future Forward, which campaigned on a strong anti-military ticket and is expected either in power or opposition to join post-election forces with Peua Thai. 

A Thai voter checks a list of candidates outside a polling station in Bangkok, March 24, 2019. Photo: Shawn W. Crispin/Asia TImes

The party, fronted by billionaire industrialist Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, could be indicted on March 26 and potentially dissolved for accusing Palang Pracharat of poaching candidates from other parties, a fact widely reported in local media. That could put it’s apparent rich store of party list seats up for grabs in the weeks ahead, likely benefitting Palang Pracharat as it bids to form a ruling coalition. 

There were no immediate or detailed complaints of widespread irregularities on polling day. However, it is unclear why the Election Commission initially announced voter turnout among 51 million eligible voters was 80% – a high percentage analysts felt would advantage Peua Thai – but later narrowed that figure to 66% in comments to reporters late on Sunday. If so, it would represent a slightly lower turnout than at the 2011 elections Peua Thai won in a landslide.

The Election Commission said 1.7 million votes were ruled invalid, considerably less than the 3 million invalid votes tallied at the 2011 poll won by Peua Thai.   

Peua Thai, aligned with self-exiled, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his likewise military-deposed ex-leader sister Yingluck Shinawatra, was disadvantaged at Sunday’s polls through new military-devised election rules designed specifically to erode its past resounding victories.

A series of Thaksin-linked parties, from his initial Thai Rak Thai, to the People’s Power Party, to the Peua Thai, have won every election staged in the kingdom since 2001. Thaksin, overthrown in a 2006 coup, later fled the kingdom in 2008 over a criminal corruption conviction that gave him a two-year prison term, a sentence he has always claimed was politicized and unjust. 

A parliamentary amnesty motion launched under his sister’s government that could have returned Thaksin to Thailand as a free man ignited anti-government street protests in 2013 that paralyzed her government and eventuated in Prayut’s May 2014 coup. 

In a surprise national address on Saturday night, King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun urged Thai voters to select “good” and not “bad” people who have previously caused chaos, pulling a rhetorical page from a speech made by his widely revered father, deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Vajiralongkorn’s address also urged “peace and order” during the election process.

Thailand's King Vajiralongkorn is seen paying respects at the statue of King Rama I after signing the military-backed constitution in Bangkok on April 6, 2017. His formal coronation is due to be held on May 4.Photo: AFP / Lillian Suwanrumpha
Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn is seen paying respects at the statue of King Rama I after signing the military-backed constitution in Bangkok on April 6, 2017. Photo: AFP / Lillian Suwanrumpha

The royal language, some analysts said, sounded similar notes to Prayut’s weekly televised national addresses, in which he frequently dressed down Peua Thai politicians who reputedly sowed division and chaos, and stunted the country’s development through alleged corruption.

Whether Vajiralongkorn’s address gave Prayut an electoral boost is unclear. But Prayut and his PPRP allies campaigned largely on a stability narrative, emphasizing the political calm his hard-knuckled regime maintained after nearly a decade of revolving and often violent street protests that crippled successive elected administrations.

While Sunday’s election was reportedly free of violence or unrest, future stability will be determined largely by what happens next. The Election Commission has until May 9 to declare final official results, leaving time for run-offs where votes were found to violate electoral regulations or are otherwise ruled fraudulent.

But if Palang Pracharat won as many votes as initially indicated, any coalition government it forms will be less wobbly and much stronger than initially anticipated.