Charges of cheating amid confusion over Thailand's election result

A party backed by the military has taken the lead in Thailand's first election since the 2014 coup, indicating that the retired general Prayuth Chan-ocha will stay in power. The Thaksin-linked Pheu Thai Party trailed with 7.23 million votes, showed the initial data.

Third was Future Forward, a party set up only a year ago by billionaire auto parts tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, with 29 seats.

The strong showing by the pro-junta Palang Pracharat stunned voters who had hoped the poll would loosen the grip that traditional elites and the military hold on power in a country that has one of the highest measures of inequality in the world. The new constitution, drawn up by the military in 2016, gives it the power to appoint all 250 senators, who then get a vote in who becomes prime minister.

Thailand has been under direct military rule for almost five years since then-army chief Prayut overthrew an elected government linked to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who himself was thrown out by the army in 2006.

"I knew that the junta running Thailand wanted to stay in power, but I can not believe how far it has gone to manipulate the general election on Sunday", Thaksin wrote in the opinion piece in the New York Times.

There are still 150 "party list" seats in the lower house up for grabs, which is where the popular vote will matter more.

Election officials delayed without explanation a full announcement of preliminary results as a blizzard of complaints mount over apparent mistakes in the count and possible irregularities.

But Thaksin, who has remained a towering figure in Thailand's decade-long treadmill of protests and coups, accused the junta of stacking the deck in its favor ahead of the vote and using dirty tricks at the ballot box. The Democrats have won only about 3.1 million votes.

Together, they will vote for a prime minister after Sunday's poll.

Millions of new voters: More than 7 million younger voters were able to cast their ballot for the first time, with the last election having taken place in 2011.

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The election was thrown into further disarray after the election commission refused to formally declare the exact number of parliamentary seats each party had won. The turnout is about 66 percent, while the EC expected more than 80 percent of the voters would join the poll.

Asked what the opposition's agenda should be, he said: "I don't know, you have to talk to them".

With results yet to be finalized, the pro-Thaksin Pheu Party may yet win more seats in parliament than the junta's party.

"Elections in our country are not like other countries", he said.

He spoke openly and said the elections were a step in the right direction and could provide a much needed boost for the economy, but noted the legal restrictions imposed by the junta.

The blunt-speaking Prayuth, who as army chief led the 2014 coup, has aimed to extend his hold on power by engineering a new political system that stifles the influence of big political parties not aligned with Palang Pracharat and the military.

The PNet spokesperson Chompunut Chalieobun told the Guardian that it was submitting an "urgent request" to meet the election commission to discuss its findings.

The results indicate old divisions in Thailand dissolving to make way for new ones: a fundamental question of whether civilian elected politicians are best placed to lead the country over the army, alongside a deified monarch. The Election Commission has until May 9 to submit official results, after which lawmakers will pick a prime minister.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn stopped the nomination, and a court later dissolved the party that proposed Ubolratana - dealing a major blow to the pro-Thaksin electoral machinery.

Meanwhile, the Future Forward Party celebrated victories in 30 constituencies in its electoral debut. But they overreached themselves by nominating the Thai king's sister as their candidate for prime minister, and instead of gaining some royal luster, found themselves disgraced and dissolved.

  • Sonia Alvarado