- Written by Thomas Mackintosh
- BBC News
Thai voters have rejected the military-backed government as the two opposition parties appear to be on the verge of coalition talks.
Preliminary results show that the Movement Forward and Pheu Thai parties are leading Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The election has been described as a turning point for Thailand, which has seen military coups in recent years.
Prayuth led the last coup in 2014 and has sought another term.
But he faced strong electoral challenges from Move Forward and Pheu Thai, two anti-military parties.
Move Forward is led by former tech executive Peta Limjarronrat, while Paetongtarn Shinawatra – daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – is the Pheu Thai candidate.
After 97% of the votes were counted, a Reuters tally based on data from the Election Commission indicated that the Forward Movement would win the most seats, followed by Pheu Thai in second place.
Peta described the result as “exciting” and promised that his party would remain opposed to military-backed parties when forming a government.
Peta told reporters the party would seek talks with Pheu Thai and that a coalition deal was “definitely on the table”.
Pheu Thai leader Paetongtarn Shinawatra congratulated Move Forward on their success and said “we can work together”.
“We are ready to talk with ‘the way forward’, but we are waiting for the official outcome,” she added.
Counting of votes began after polling stations closed at 17:00 (10:00 GMT) on Sunday – nine hours after voting began in 95,000 polling stations across Thailand.
About 50 million people were expected to cast their ballots to elect the 500 members of the lower house of Parliament – and about 2 million people voted early.
The Election Commission is not expected to officially confirm the final number of seats won by each party for several weeks.
But it marks a major shift in public opinion in Thailand where voters of all ages seem ready to take a chance on young, idealistic and relatively untested politicians.
Weeks later, a pro-military party formed the government and named Mr Prayuth as its candidate for prime minister in a process the opposition said was unfair.
Almost 70 parties contested this election—including many large parties—and no party won an outright majority of seats in the House of Representatives.
But even if one party wins a majority, or has a majority coalition in place, the political system he inherited from the military-drafted 2017 constitution, and another set of non-electoral powers, could prevent him from taking office.
The constitution, which was written while Thailand was under military rule, created the appointed 250-seat Senate, which has the right to vote on the selection of the next prime minister and cabinet.
Since all senators are appointed by the coup leaders, they have always voted for the current government allied with the military, and never for the opposition.
So, technically, a party without the support of the Senate needs a supermajority of 376 out of 500 seats, which is an unattainable target.
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