Thais flock to early voting in first election since 2014 coup

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BANGKOK (Reuters) – Many Thais queued on Sunday, some for hours, to vote early in parliamentary elections scheduled for March 24, the country’s first since a 2014 military coup.

“It feels good to use our democratic right,” said 29-year-old Adulwit Sinthusiri, one of the 2.6 million Thais who registered for the one-day-only early voting.

People who registered to vote on Sunday but do not do so forfeit the chance to participate, under election rules.

A total of 52 million Thais aged 18 and above are eligible to vote.

Several other new and smaller parties could hold the key to a coalition government after the vote, but Prayuth’s party holds a built-in advantage because the junta is appointing the 250-seat Senate, giving it a head start in securing a majority vote of the combined parliament needed to choose a prime minister.

The election is for the 500-seat House of Representatives.

Adulwit said he was not impressed with the government’s performance over the past five years and believed new parties like Future Forward, an anti-junta group headed by 40-year-old auto parts billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, could make a difference.

Many Thais want Prayuth, who became prime minister after the coup and then retired from the army, to stay on, effectively setting up an elected martial democracy.

“Prayuth is a good man … he is straightforward and does good things for the country,” said Nawarat Phuyungwattana, 63, from the southern province of Narathiwat.

Pro-Thaksin parties have campaigned on policies that they said would improve the economy and increase prices of rice and rubber.

Parties affiliated with Thaksin, who is in self-imposed exile after conviction on a corruption charge, have won all elections since 2001 on populist policies like a universal healthcare scheme.

The military overthrew pro-Thaksin governments with coups in 2006 and again in 2014, when it toppled one that had been led by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.