BANGKOK – The preliminary results for elections in Thailand, the first in the southeast Asian country after nearly five years of military rule, were postponed at the last minute by the election commission on Sunday.
After having counted over 90 percent of the votes, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, Ittiporn Boonprakong, said the preliminary results would be released on Monday morning, without explaining the delay. He also said that 65.96 percent of 51.2 million eligible voters had participated in the polls.
The Commission chairman said that 1.9 million ballots, 5.6 percent of the total counted so far, were invalid.
The Bangkok Post, citing the Electoral Commission, reported that there were 1.9 million invalid ballots amid widespread uncertainty on Sunday night about the outcome of the vote.
With 92 percent of the ballots counted, the pro-military Palang Pracharat had secured 7.5 million votes, with opposition party Pheu Thai winning just under 7.1 million ballots.
Unofficial vote counts early on Sunday evening, as well as pre-election opinion polls, had forecast a clear victory for Pheu Thai, which is backed by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Parties linked to the Shinawatras have won every election since 2001.
But votes started pouring in for the Phalang Pracharat party of incumbent PM General Prayuth Chan-ocha so that it was neck-and-neck with Pheu Thai, confounding pre-election predictions.
The newly-formed pro-democracy Anakot Mai (“Future Forward”) party, and its charismatic leader, billionaire entrepreneur Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who is hugely popular with younger voters, were expected to win the third-most seats with around 17 percent.
Seven million Thais aged 18 to 26 were eligible to vote for the first time in Sunday’s poll.
The biggest loser appeared to the Democrat Party; the oldest party in the country, which is traditionally supported by the upper middle classes and in the south, were trailing with the fifth-most votes.
The leader of the Democrats, Abhisit Vejjajiva – who served as PM between 2008-11– announced he was stepping down after preliminary data suggested that his party had fallen short of even the most pessimistic expectations.
Shinawatra was overthrown in a coup in 2006 and was charged with abuse of power. He was sentenced in absentia to two years in jail and has been living in self-imposed exile ever since.
He has continued to influence Thai politics from abroad through various groups such as Pheu Thai, which his sister Yingluck led as prime minister from 2011 until she was overthrown in 2014 by another military coup.
A junta led by Prayuth, the only candidate for PM put forward by Phalang Pracharat, then took power.
The elections on Sunday were the first since a new constitution – adopted following the death of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016 – limited the power of large parties and ensured that the military is tasked with overseeing a 20-year strategic plan, regardless of which party wins.
The constitution, approved with the promise of providing stability to the country and preventing a potential stalemate in parliament, also gives the military establishment powers to nominate all 250 members of the senate (the upper house) for a five-year term.
All 750 representatives from the two houses will vote together to elect the prime minister.
This means that a coalition of pro-democracy parties would require 376 seats in the lower house to be able to elect the next PM, while the pro-military parties need only 126, as it would be able to count on the support of the 250 military-appointed senators.
Bhumibol’s son and successor, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, made a surprise statement late on Saturday night, the eve of the polls, urging Thais to elect “good people” to rule and not prevent “bad people” from “creating chaos.”