No Official Winner Has Been Declared Nearly A Month After Thailand's General Election

Apr 22, 2019
Originally published on April 22, 2019 7:28 pm
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It's been nearly a month since Thailand's general election. Though there's still no official winner, many expect the pro-military party to prevail. The military seized power in 2014 and promised a return to democratic rule. Five years later, that promise appears hollow. Michael Sullivan reports from Bangkok.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Even before the election, nobody really believed the idea that the Thai military would voluntarily exit the political stage.

THITINAN PONGSUDHIRAK: I think the military junta backed by the army is now intending to stay for the long haul at all costs.

SULLIVAN: That's Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University explaining how the military has been busy cementing its continued role in Thai politics with a new military-drafted constitution, a new junta-appointed Senate and a new way of allocating seats in parliament to ensure no single party won an overwhelming majority in this election as parties loyal to the military's nemesis, deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, had done in the previous three.

DAVID STRECKFUSS: This was an exercise in making Thailand look democratic when, in fact, it was not; it is not. So call it what you want. It's still putting lipstick on the pig.

SULLIVAN: David Streckfuss is an independent scholar who lives in Thailand's northeast. He was surprised the military-backed party didn't perform better at the polls.

STRECKFUSS: They did quite badly given that they had five years of total domination over the Thai government. At the end of the day, 74% of the Thai population voted against them.

SULLIVAN: After the unofficial results were announced, a coalition of anti-military parties quickly claimed the results showed they had enough seats to form a coalition government - prematurely it turns out.

PAUL CHAMBERS: All of a sudden, the military-appointed election commissioners suddenly say we have to look again and maybe recalculate.

SULLIVAN: That's Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University who thinks the commissioners will try to recalculate in the pro-military party's favor. The junta-appointed election commission vehemently denies any bias. But the junta has another problem it didn't see coming, says David Streckfuss - a new anti-military party with a charismatic leader that finished a strong third in last month's election.

STRECKFUSS: With their hyper-focus on trying to end any sort of influence of Thaksin Shinawatra was that they missed a whole new generation and a whole new movement that the Future Forward was able to create. And this party did remarkably well, and that is exactly why it's being targeted now.

SULLIVAN: Earlier this month, the party's leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, appeared at a police station and was charged with sedition in connection with an anti-junta protest he attended more than three years ago. Outside this station, Thanathorn, surrounded by supporters, defiantly held up the three-finger salute from "The Hunger Games," an early symbol of resistance to the 2014 coup.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THANATHORN JUANGROONGRUANGKIT: (Speaking Thai).

SULLIVAN: Thanathorn told the crowd he's innocent of the sedition charge and two more brought against him. The military denies the charges are politically motivated. Paul Chambers isn't buying it.

CHAMBERS: I can promise you next they're going to dissolve the Future Forward Party, and then it's going to be smooth sailing for a pro-junta coalition.

SULLIVAN: But even a pro-junta coalition will still have to face a feisty and formidable opposition in the House, a recipe for political gridlock and more discontent. David Streckfuss...

STRECKFUSS: It's going to be a perilous time for the military. People are watching, and there's a whole new game in town with the Future Forward Party. And it's quite unpredictable.

SULLIVAN: Final results, in theory, are expected May 9. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.