Thai polls set for May 14

Man in charge: Prayut faces a tough fight against the main opposition party, fronted by Paetongtarn. — AFP

The country’s general election will be held on May 14, authorities confirmed, as embattled Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha tries to extend nearly a decade of army-backed rule.

Former army chief, who came to power in a 2014 coup, faces a tough fight against the main opposition party, fronted by the daughter of billionaire former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Pheu Thai party of Paetongtarn Shinawatra is riding high in the polls but may find it hard to secure the premiership because Thailand’s junta-scripted 2017 constitution favours army-backed candidates.A statement from the Election Commission yesterday said the vote would be on May 14, with early ballots cast on May 7.

The announcement comes a day after Prayut dissolved the lower house of parliament – the formal step to call an election.

Unofficial campaigning has been under way for weeks, with parties focusing on economic issues as they seek the support of Thailand’s 52 million voters.

In a poll published on Sunday, nearly 50% of the 2,000 respondents said they would vote for Pheu Thai, with Prayut’s United Thai Nation party on around 12% .

King Maha Vajiralongkorn endorsed a decree to dissolve parliament, according to an announcement in the Royal Gazette, ahead of an election that must be held within 45 to 60 days.

“This is a return of political decision-making power to the people swiftly to continue democratic government with the King as head of state,” said the decree published on Monday.

The election broadly pits the Shinawatra family and its business allies against parties and politicians close to their rivals among the royalist military and old money conservatives.

With populist policies aimed at Thailand’s working classes, parties controlled by the Shinawatras have won every election since 2001, including twice in landslides, but three of its governments were removed in military coups or by court rulings.

The May election will choose members of parliament, which together with an appointed Senate will choose a prime minister by the end of July, according to a timeline provided by the government.

Paetongtarn is the frontrunner to be prime minister in opinion surveys, with her support jumping 10 points to 38.2% in a poll released at the weekend, more than twice the backing of her nearest contender.

Prayut, 68, will continue to lead as head of a caretaker government and is expected to run again.

“I’m glad I’ve built something good, generated revenue for the country, built industry. There has been a lot of investment,” he said.

“You have to ask the people if they are satisfied or not ... I have done a lot in the many years that have passed.” — Agencies

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