Thai voters went to the polls in a fiercely contested election on Sunday. The outcome will determine if Prime Minister Prayuth, the general that seized power through a coup attempt in 2014, can be unseated by his opponents.
Un observer of Thai political affairs has described the election as the most significant one in his life.
Many voters, according to opinion polls, want a change. They support opposition parties who have pledged to restore democracy in Thailand and rollback some of the authoritarian practices introduced by Mr. Prayuth.
Many people believe that after nine years at the helm, Mr. Prayuth did little to improve the economy. Many voters have also been alienated by his harsh crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrations in Bangkok, 2020.
The economic stagnation in Thailand will cause a great deal of unhappiness and grievances, according to Thitinan, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University.
What you need to Know about the Election
Who is the front runner?
According to the majority of opinion polls, Paetongtarn Shinawatra is currently the frontrunner for the position of prime minister. She represents the populist Pheu Thai Party. She is known as Ung Ing in Thailand, the daughter of Thaksin.
Many Thais still remember Mr. Thaksin fondly as the prime minister between 2001 and 2006. He is remembered for his $1 universal health program and for giving subsidies to farmers. The populist parties he founded including Pheu Thai have consistently been the winners of every election since 2001.
The military and wealthy conservatives continue to dislike Mr. Thaksin. In 2006, the army overthrew Mr. Thaksin in a coup and he fled the country. After her term as Prime Minister, his sister, Yingluck, suffered a similar fate. Mr. Thaksin who resides mainly in Dubai was sentenced to 12 years in absentia for corruption and abuse.
The rise of Ms. Paetongtarn has raised questions about whether or not she will bring her father to Thailand. Many Thais now fear a repeat of the instabilities that characterized the previous Shinawatra governments.
Pita Limjaroenrat is a candidate from the Move Forward Party, and Ms. Paetongtarn faces stiff competition. In a recent poll, Mr. Pita was voted the most popular candidate for prime minister.
How does the electoral system look?
The 500 members of the House of Representatives, and the 250 military-appointed Senate select the prime minister.
In 2019, the Senate supported Mr. Prayuth with unanimous support and will likely align itself once again with a proxy military candidate. If the Senate votes in a single bloc, an opposition politician will need to assemble a large majority of the lower house - at least 376 votes - to lead the nation.
Senator Wanchai Sornsiri and a group other senators have already said they 'definitely wouldn't choose' Ms. Paetongtarn to be prime minister. It is still unclear who the military will choose.
The votes could be divided.
The separation of Prayuth and his former comrade, Deputy Premier Prawit Wongsuwan, was a major surprise in this election. Mr. Prayuth has joined the United Thai Nation Party which was created solely for him to run as a candidate. Mr. Prawit continued to be a member of Palang Pracharath - Mr. Prayuth’s former party.
Pheu Thai is the populist party founded by the daughter of the former Prime Minister. There have been rumors that the two parties could form a coalition. He is considered to be one of Thailand's most powerful politicians and was previously the army chief for Mr. Thaksin.
Pheu Thai denies these rumors consistently, but many sceptical Thais claim they will vote for the progressive Move Forward Party in order to avoid such a result.
What are the main issues?
The Move Forward Party proposed amending Thailand's strict law prohibiting defaming insulting or threatening members of the Royal Family. This was after authorities indicted more than 200 individuals for violating this law during the mass pro-democracy demonstrations in Bangkok, in 2020.
A conviction under Article 112 of the law carries a sentence minimum of three years, and a maximum of 15 years. This is the only crime that is punishable by a minimum prison term in Thailand.
Voters are also concerned about issues of daily living. The tourism-dependent Thai economy was hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak, and it reported the lowest economic growth among major economies of Southeast Asia last year.
To attract voters, nearly all political parties rely on populist policies such as cash subsidies and handouts.
What role does the military play in society?
The military has been in control of Thai politics for many decades. It is unlikely that they will relinquish their power anytime soon.
Thai generals, in addition to orchestrating a dozen coups over the past century, rewrote their Constitution in 2017, to fill the Senate with allies. They also wanted to ensure that the military had the power to choose the country's Prime Minister.
Even if Prayuth lost the popular vote, the minority government he leads could be the one to lead.
Titipol Phakdeewanich is a political science professor at Ubon Ratchathani University. She said: 'When all the plans are so meticulous, I can't be optimistic that anything will change after this election.
The Constitutional Court of Thailand disbanded in 2020 the Future Forward Party (previously known as the Move Forward Party) after it finished unexpectedly third in the elections for 2019. The military also disbanded Mr. Thaksin’s two previous parties. (Conservative officials also threatened to dissolve the Move Forward Party during this election.
Wanwichit Boonprong is a political science professor at Rangsit University. He said that parties should be aware of junta'stealth autoritarianism' following the election. He said that this will be a major challenge for the new administration. Every step will be monitored, scrutinized.