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Explainer: Who are the front runners in Thailand's general election, what's at stake and why it matters

SINGAPORE — Thailand's May 14 general election is shaping up as a clash between a coalition of incumbent ruling parties, backed by the country's conservative military and royalist establishment, and more reformist, progressive opposition groups.

Pheu Thai Party candidate Paethongtarn Shinawatra (centre) arrives for the first day of the constituencies candidates registration for Thailand's May 14 general election, in Bangkok on April 3, 2023.

Pheu Thai Party candidate Paethongtarn Shinawatra (centre) arrives for the first day of the constituencies candidates registration for Thailand's May 14 general election, in Bangkok on April 3, 2023.

  • Thailand will be holding its general election on May 14
  • Among other contenders, the election will pit Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, against the incumbent Prayuth Chan-ocha
  • Recent polls showed Ms Paetongtarn as the favourite prime ministerial candidate in the upcoming election
  • However, her Pheu Thai party may not win enough votes to overcome the influence of Thailand’s 250 unelected, military-appointed senators, who play a role in selecting the prime minister

SINGAPORE — Thailand's May 14 general election is shaping up as a clash between a coalition of incumbent ruling parties, backed by the country's conservative military and royalist establishment, and more reformist, progressive opposition groups.

Much attention is focused on Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra, 36, a prominent candidate from Thailand’s biggest opposition party, Pheu Thai. She is the daughter of the exiled but still influential billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra who served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006 before being ousted in a coup.

Ms Yingluck Shinawatra, Mr Thaksin's sister and Ms Paetongtarn's aunt, was prime minister from 2011 to 2014 before she, too, was ousted in a military coup.

Then-army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power in that 2014 coup. Mr Prayuth, 69, is running for the top job again.

Recent polls suggest Ms Paetongtarn is the most popular prime ministerial candidate in the upcoming election. On April 16, an opinion poll by the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida) put her in first spot with 35.7 per cent.

Mr Prayuth came in third place with just 13.6 per cent.

However, even if Pheu Thai performs strongly in next month’s election, the party may not win enough votes to overcome the influence of Thailand’s 250 unelected, military-appointed senators, who play a role in selecting the prime minister.

And not to be overlooked in the race to Thailand’s top job is a businessman seeking to overturn the strict lese majeste law that prohibits the insulting of the royal family, and a pro-cannabis health minister.

To form a government, a party or coalition has to win a majority of the combined 500 lower house seats plus the 250 unelected senators in the upper house. This means 376 votes are needed to become the governing party or coalition in parliament.

With just over two weeks before Thais cast their ballots to elect the 500 members of the House of Representatives, their compatriots living overseas began voting as early as Tuesday (April 25), with the exact date dependent on the country they are in.

In Singapore, Thais will be able to cast their vote on Saturday and Sunday at the Royal Thai Embassy along Orchard Road.

Mr Prayuth formally called the election on March 20 when he dissolved the lower house of parliament.

Here is what you need to know about Thailand’s second election since the 2014 coup, and the first since the country was rocked by massive, youth-led pro-democracy protests in Bangkok in 2020.



The incumbent of eight years is running under the banner of a new party called United Thai Nation.

After seizing power in the 2014 coup, Mr Prayuth was elected prime minister in 2019 and if he gets the top job again, he is entitled to serve only half of the four-year term as he will have reached the maximum eight years permitted.

His military junta ruled Thailand for nearly five years before a general election was held in 2019 under a new constitution written by a military-appointed committee.

At the time, Mr Prayuth was the sole prime ministerial candidate of the pro-junta party Palang Pracharat. The party managed to form the government with its political allies, although it was the Pheu Thai Party that had a majority of seats in the lower house.


The youngest child of Mr Thaksin, Ms Paetongtarn has been campaigning in the vote-rich rural strongholds of the main opposition Pheu Thai party, promising to bring back populist policies such as nearly doubling the daily minimum wage to 600 baht (S$23.47).

Best known by her nickname, "Ung Ing", Ms Paetongtarn is an executive at a real estate firm and the biggest shareholder in another developer, SC Asset.

She is currently pregnant, due to give birth just before the election.

Far younger than most of her main rivals, Ms Paetongtarn has a jet-setting lifestyle and about half a million Instagram followers.

Besides Ms Paetongtarn, the Pheu Thai Party also fielded two other prime ministerial candidates: Property tycoon Srettha Thavisin, 60, and former attorney-general Chaikasem Nitisiri, 74.

Mr Srettha was the fifth choice for prime minister in the Nida poll, coming in at 6.05 per cent.


Mr Pita is a businessman and leader of the progressive opposition Move Forward party, the only one pushing for amendments to Thailand's strict royal defamation or lese majeste law that punishes offenders with up to 15 years in jail.

His other policies include promoting small businesses, curbing monopolies and ending military conscription. The party's supporters are mostly younger voters.

According to the Nida poll, Mr Pita was the second most popular bet for prime minister at 20.25 per cent.


A seasoned political dealmaker and current deputy premier, Mr Prawit is a nominee for prime minister for the Palang Pracharat party following ally Mr Prayuth's departure to his new party.

Mr Prawit is a staunch royalist from the same military clique as Mr Prayuth, and served in his junta.

He has positioned himself as a candidate who can bridge the divide between conservatives and democratic forces.


Health Minister Anutin oversaw Thailand’s Covid-19 lockdowns, treatment and vaccine procurement and was criticised for calling it "just a flu".

He has been praised for restarting tourism through a vaccinated travel programme.

His Bhumjaithai party controls about 50 seats in parliament and successfully delivered on a 2019 campaign promise to decriminalise and promote medical cannabis.

However, that led to a rise in recreational use, upsetting conservatives and prompting Mr Anutin to take a tougher stance against other drugs.

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Political analysts with an eye on Thailand told TODAY that many of the issues that the country’s electoral candidates will have to tackle are domestic in nature.

For instance, given the beating Thailand’s economy took during the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Felix Tan, a political analyst at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), said political parties and candidates will have to focus on a post-pandemic economic recovery.

Aside from bread and butter issues, some election issues are ideological, the experts said.

This includes a desire for a change to the political landscape away from that under the Prayuth administration, said Dr Tan.

Citing results from an opinion poll, the Reuters news agency reported on April 15 that Mr Prayuth’s party was lagging behind the main opposition party.

The Pheu Thai party was ahead with 38.89 per cent, followed by the Move Forward Party at 32.37 per cent.

Prayuth's United Thai Nation Party was in third place with just 12.84 per cent.

Against this backdrop, Dr Michael Montesano, an associate senior fellow for the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute’s Thailand Studies Programme, said it becomes a question of what parties at the authoritarian end of the spectrum will do.

“(Are they) able to offer a sufficiently appealing message to voters to have the chance to be part of Thailand's next government without the benefit of judicial, military or other intervention?”

He added that it will also be important for parties to be able to capture the youth vote, not only in the capital Bangkok, but also in provincial centres.

Millennial and Gen Z voters represent about 41 per cent of Thailand's 52 million voters, according to an April 22 report from the AFP news agency.

Dr Tan said Thai candidates are also focusing on the social development of the country.

“Two things stand out — the control and banning of the use of marijuana in public; and next, use of lese majeste laws to curb freedom of speech,” he said.

“These are what matters in the Thai elections.”

AFP said in its April 22 article that more than 200 pro-democracy activists are facing royal defamation charges. Those convicted can be jailed for up to 15 years for each charge.

Ms Paetongtarn was reported by the Guardian newspaper on April 6 as saying that “such issues could be discussed in future” when asked if she supported an amnesty for the 200 activists.


Various news reports have stated that if Pheu Thai wins enough seats and gets to form the next government, Ms Paetongtarn is tipped to become the third Shinawatra to lead Thailand after her father and aunt, Ms Yingluck.

If elected to the top job, she would also become Thailand’s youngest prime minister.

While her father might be in exile, many see Mr Thaksin continuing to influence the Pheu Thai party — first through his sister, and now through his daughter.

However, news channel CNN quoted the former policeman and businessman downplaying any suggestions that he will be pulling any strings in an article in March.

“I have seen her dedicate herself to the party… and she has done a good job even though she is pregnant,” he said.

“Now that she is (older), she decides for herself… I don’t control her. She’s got her mother’s DNA and has (characteristics) I don’t have so if she does become prime minister, she would do better than me,” he added.

Ms Paetongtarn has also previously denied that, if in power, she would help to facilitate the return of her father, who is reportedly now living in Dubai with Ms Yingluck.

In an interview with Thai news outlet the Standard, she said that Mr Thaksin, 73, simply wishes to be with his family.

“He wants to come back to be with his grandchild and his family. He wants to die here in Thailand. His coming back is not to create chaos,” she said.


With most Thais supporting the Pheu Thai party, Dr Paul Chambers from the Centre of Asean Community Studies at Naresuan University in Thailand said that a win for the party would “bring popular stability” to Thailand.

“The best outcome for Singapore is a government supported by the Thai majority,” he said, though he warned of the possibility of yet another coup taking place at some point.

Dr Montesano also pointed out the historically close relationship between Mr Thaksin and the Singapore Government.

“This may again emerge as a positive factor in the bilateral relationships (between Singapore and Thailand),” he said.

“Even in exile and without a formal political role, Thaksin remains a dominant influence on that party.”

Beyond bilateral ties, NTU’s Dr Tan said that the stability of the Thai political landscape would also herald stronger economic relations between the two nations.

“After all, there are Singaporean businesses in Thailand that will want to see a continued economic growth and stability in Thailand, especially when it comes to investments,” he said.


A crucial issue to watch during the elections, said Dr Montesano, is whether Thailand's next government sees a changing of the guard in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He said the current leadership has pursued a policy toward Myanmar that “fits very awkwardly” with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (Asean) effort to address the crisis in that country.

Myanmar has been gripped by violence and unrest since a coup in February 2021 that upended a decade of democratic reforms.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in March that Singapore will continue working with Asean members as well as the United Nations to commit Myanmar's military rulers to implement a stalled peace plan.

However, various media reports have stated that Thailand’s current leadership is widely suspected to be a tacit supporter of the Myanmar junta.

Dr Tan said Thailand seems to be shifting away from the consensus-based rhetoric of Asean.

This was seen when Thailand went off on its own to engage with the Myanmar military junta in December last year, at a meeting at which key Asean nations such as Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines were not present.

“This so-called informal meeting, together with Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, sets a very dangerous precedent for Asean unity,” he said.

As there have been calls for Asean to find a compromise with the Myanmar junta leader under the current Prayuth government, Dr Tan said the Thai election will be significant as it might alter the relationship it has with the trading bloc.

Nevertheless, Naresuan University’s Dr Chambers believes that all parties will support a continued proactive relationship with Asean.

“If later on there is a military coup against a new Pheu Thai government, this would not be suitable for Asean,” he said. WITH AGENCIES

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