Thaksin: Election 'rigged' as allies challenge army

Polls open in Thailand for the first election since 2014 coup

Thailand's pro-military party has taken the lead in the country's first general election since the military coup of 2014, according to preliminary results.

"Our winning results (with the most votes nationwide) show that voters have given us the mandate to govern the country", he said at a press conference after the EC announced the unofficial results.

"Whether or not the junta's leaders now allow the pro-democracy parties to form a government, they will find a way to stay in charge", Thaksin wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times.

The count did not include 150 party-list seats, which meant that either party will need to seek coalition partners to control parliament.

And in Thailand, which has seen 12 coups since 1932, instability increases the odds of another military takeover.

Meanwhile, Prayut said earlier that he would continue to assume his concurrent posts as prime minister and chairman of the National Council for Peace and Order until a post-election government has been set up.

Many took to social media to voice their suspicions about the results of an election which critics had said was skewed in favour of the military from the outset.

Based on a Reuters tally of partial results of the 350 constituency seats contested on Sunday, Pheu Thai was on track to win at least 129 and Palang Pracharat at least 102.

Alternatively, the constitutional court may choose to disband Future Forward after the election, or the Electoral Commission may choose to red card enough MPs so that the minimum quorum of parliament may not be reached, and parliament can not be opened.

Thai Raksa Chart, a Pheu Thai offshoot created to scoop up more votes, was dissolved following its ill-fated bid to have Princess Ubolratana run as its prime ministerial candidate.

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Concerns from the Thai middle-class and business interests kept the pressure on the junta to call elections, although the date was put back several times, as the military sorted out its proxy party support.

Speaking to reporters after casting his ballot, Prayuth said, "I hope everyone helps each other by going to vote today as it's everyone's right".

But the party faces an uphill battle because selection of the next prime minister will be decided by the 500-member lower house as well as a 250-member junta-appointed Senate.

More than 33 million voters out of the 51 million eligible cast their ballots in the election.

"Without vote buying, we wouldn't have suffered such big losses", candidate Sirichok Sopha told AFP.

The royal family, which wields great influence and commands the devotion of millions of Thais, played a part in the election though how far this determined the outcome was unclear.

As Thai voters select their next government in the wake of nearly five years of direct military rule, critics have slammed the voting system, accusing the junta of rigging results to favor pro-military political groups. A key player in deciding who will be the non-partisan Bhumjaithai party, which gained substantial votes by running on populist policies such as the legalisation of recreational marijuana, and is now being wooed by both the pro-military and pro-democracy factions.

He was ousted in a coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a conviction for abuse of power.

Thailand's powerful King Maha Vajiralongkorn had issued a statement on the eve of the election that said the role of leaders is to stop "bad people" from gaining power and causing chaos.

The vote has again revealed Thailand's old divisions between Thaksin supporters and arch-royalist, conservatives who look to the army for stability. Leaders of political parties opposed to military rule have urged a high turnout as the only way to derail Prayuth's plans. The administration of his sister Yingluck was also the victim of a 2014 power grab by the military.

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