Thailand junta's fate looks safe as claims of foul play emerge
Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the election was rigged
The fate of Thailand's military government appears to be safe, despite the opposition Pheu Thai party leading the government in preliminary results.
The opposition Pheu Thai party won 138 seats in the House of Representatives and Palang Pracharath, the ruling pro-military party won 96 seats, with 150 left to declare, according to preliminary results released on Monday.
Even if the opposition party is the single largest in the elected chamber, its chances of becoming the ruling party are unlikely due to the country's electoral system.
Claims of electoral rigging and voter irregularities also emerged on Monday, with thousands taking to social media to claim foul play.
Former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was exiled in 2006 and founded Pheu Thai, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times titled "The Election in Thailand Was Rigged" that was published on Monday.
"I knew that the junta running Thailand wanted to stay in power, but I cannot believe how far it has gone to manipulate the general election on Sunday," he wrote.
The electoral commission blamed the vote irregularities on human error.
It is the first general election since a military coup ousted the prime minister from power and dissolved the government in 2014.
The pro-military party is seeking a democratic mandate for their leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha to keep the premiership.
The electoral commission announced 350 seats of the 500 in the parliament on Monday based on constituencies and will decide the remaining 150 in May using a complex formula involving voter turnout.
If there is enough detail in Friday's numbers it might be possible to extrapolate the winners of the 150 remaining seats.
While Pheu Thai looks set to be the largest party in the House of Representatives, it will be unlikely to form the next prime minister and government, due to the country's new political system.
The next prime minister is chosen collectively by the Senate, which makes up 250 seats, and the House of Representatives, which represents 500 seats, meaning collectively a majority out of 750 votes is needed to select the prime minister and government.
The military ruling junta selects all 250 seats of the Senate, meaning they only need 126 votes in the House of Representatives to reach 376 votes (more than half of 750) and re-install incumbent premier Prayuth Chan-Ocha.
Pheu Thai claimed that early figures, which showed Palang Pracharath gaining an early lead in the popular vote, was evidence of voting irregularities.
"There are irregularities in this election that we're not comfortable with. These affect the nation's credibility and people's trust," said Sudarat Keyuraphan, candidate for prime minister of the Pheu Thai Party.
"We've voiced our concerns before for vote-buying, abuse of power, and cheating. All three have manifested. We will fight back through legal means," she told a news conference.
Thai social media also appeared to express disbelief at the result.
Thai-language hashtags that translated as "Election Commission screw-up" and "cheating the election" were trending on Twitter in Thailand.
Some pointed to inconsistencies between numbers of voter turnout and ballots cast in the election.
Future Forward, a new party that appears to have made a spectacular election debut, winning 30 of the 350 constituency seats thanks to its appeal to young voters, also questioned the poll numbers.
"There are obviously some irregularities with the numbers because they don't add up. This is making people sceptical of the election results," said Future Forward spokeswoman Pannika Wanich.
A change.org petition launched a week ago to impeach the Election Commission had garnered almost 600,000 signatures by Monday evening, up from around 200,000 at the start of the day.
Updated: March 25, 2019 06:49 PM