Thailand’s political hopefuls register for May election


On Monday, hundreds of would-be lawmakers in Thailand began the official registration process for the upcoming general election, a vote that will pit supporters of an exiled prime minister against the conservative political establishment and its allies in the military.
Dressed in T-shirts and jackets in their party colours and backed by groups of noisy supporters, the political hopefuls pushed their way past a throng of journalists to cram into a Bangkok stadium and complete the paperwork to qualify for the 14 May election.
Underscoring the political tensions, four protesters, under the watchful eyes of two dozen police officers, held up signs demanding changes to Article 112 of the constitution, which carries harsh penalties for defaming the country’s monarch. Calls for reform of the law have increased in recent years but remain a major taboo in a country where the royal family has traditionally been seen as untouchable.
Prayuth Chan-ocha, the incumbent prime minister, recently joined a new party, the United Thai Nation Party, and needs its slate of candidates to perform strongly to bolster his bid to recapture the top spot. He first became prime minister in 2014, when, as army commander, he led a coup that ousted the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
Her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire populist, was ousted as prime minister in an earlier coup in 2006. He remains in self-exile to avoid serving time for a criminal conviction he says was politically motivated.
Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Thaksin’s daughter, and her Pheu Thai Party have a huge lead, according to opinion polls. But Thailand’s electoral system means contenders have to win by a wide margin to be sure of forming the government and claiming the prime minister’s position.
“I believe the strong point of Pheu Thai is the party itself, not me. The popularity of the party has surpassed my own,” Paetongtarn stated. “I believe the people chose our party because of our policy. That’s our strong point.”
Polls show the leader of the Move Forward Party, Pita Limjaroenrat, and leading Paetongtarn in the capital, Bangkok.