Thailand’s political uncertainty will spike this month as the election to the House of Representatives on 14 May approaches. The quest for the premiership looks be a two-horse race between Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of a former Prime Minister, and the current Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha of the military’s United Thai Nation Party. The numbers do not look good for Mr Prayuth. After eight years of military rule, a recent poll indicated two-thirds of Thai people wanted the opposition to lead the country. Ms. Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party has a commanding lead and could alone win a majority in the 500-seat lower house.
To name a PM, however, the party will need a majority of votes from across the entire National Assembly. With the unelected 250-seat upper house packed with senators directly appointed by the military, that means finding allies in the House of Representatives. A deal with the Move Forward Party, which is popular among young urban voters, has been mooted to try and get over the 376-seat threshold.
What will come to pass though remains unclear. The election has already been criticised by international NGOs for a lack of fairness, and the military dominates the Election Commission and the Constitutional Court. Given the deep rift between the military and the Shinawatra family, we do not expect a transfer of power to be smooth. If the generals fail to prevent Pheu Thai from reaching the 376-seat threshold through cajoling, they will turn to the military-appointed courts. Subversion of the popular will, however, runs the risk of sparking protests and potential violence in the capital. At the extreme end of the scenarios, the military may opt for another coup, adding to more than a dozen since 1932. Thailand has become rather good at handling their fallout, but any seizure of power would likely have a deleterious effect on the Thai economy and push the country closer to China. Political, economic and security risks remain raised in advance of the ballot.