Thailand prepares for polls

United front: Paetongtarn (in red blazer) and other Pheu Thai leaders waving to supporters in Pathum Thani province. — AP

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he had prepared a decree seeking to dissolve parliament ahead of an election, an expected step as his government heads into the last week of its four-year term.

The decree would require approval of Thailand’s monarch and would take effect once published in the Royal Gazette. An election must take place 45-60 days after dissolution.

“I have prepared (the decree), we have to wait. We have to wait for the announcement in the Royal Gazette,” Prayut told reporters in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

Asked when this would be, he said: “We have to wait.”

The election will again pit the billionaire Shinawatra family against parties backed by the royalist military and old money conservatives, in what has been a bitter, 18-year power struggle in South-East Asia’s second-biggest economy.

Prayut, a retired general who has been in charge since leading a coup against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014, will run under the new United Thai Nation party.

He will be up against Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and Yingluck’s niece. Paetongtarn, 36, has led Prayut in opinion polls for months as the top choice for Thailand’s next prime minister.

On Friday, she outlined policies including improving labour conditions, guaranteeing a higher minimum wage, reducing pollution and turning Thailand into a financial technology hub.

“I hope everyone wins their elections by a landslide, winning the people’s hearts by a lot,” she said to the assembled candidates, receiving enthusiastic applause.

“Together we will fix the problems that have piled up over the last eight years, make them diminish and disappear.”

Even if Pheu Thai wins the most seats, it may not necessarily provide the prime minister. The top post is chosen by a combined vote of the elected lawmakers and the appointed 250-strong Senate. The Senate is widely expected to vote as a bloc in favour of a conservative candidate and against anyone from the Shinawatra camp. — Agencies

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