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Thai election

Five things to know a week after the Thai election

Political deadlock foreseen as all sides await official results

If Thailand's power struggle turns into a political deadlock, the key Southeast Asian economy could suffer serious consequences.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- A week has passed since voters in Thailand finally had their say, casting ballots in the kingdom's first general election in eight years. It was a closely watched event around the globe: Would Thailand return to a democratic path, or remain under the rule of a military junta and its allies?

With much confusion over the results, a pro-junta bloc of parties is closing in on the magic number of lower house seats it needs to name the next prime minister. At the same time, an anti-junta coalition has a majority of the chamber's seats within its grasp. While the numbers reported so far give a clear indication of the situation, the official outcome is not likely to be known until May 9.

Here are five things you need to know about the road Thailand started down with last weekend's election.

Who won?

No one has been declared a clear winner. The Election Commission of Thailand on Thursday announced the total vote count, but the figures are unofficial because the commission needs to look through all the complaints made regarding the voting and counting processes as well as allegations of fraud.

The elections allowed Thais to choose the 500 members of the lower house, where most of the legislature's lawmaking power resides. Of the 500, 350 candidates were directly elected from single-seat constituencies. The commission has announced the unofficial winners from these districts but has not announced who won the remaining 150 proportional representation seats. Local media outlets have crunched the numbers, though, and have a pretty good idea how these seats will be parceled out.

Combining the commission's official results and the Thai media calculations, an anti-junta coalition formed on Wednesday is expected to obtain a few more than 250 seats. As such, it will be the largest force in the house.

Despite its lower house majority, the bloc will not be able to form the next government. The pro-junta Palang Pracharat, with help from some smaller parties, is expected to reach at least 126 seats. That is enough to appoint the next prime minister, and Palang Pracharat's only candidate for the job is the current prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha.

How can pro-junta parties finish with fewer seats than the anti-junta coalition and still form a government?

Because the constitution states that all members of the lower and upper houses -- there are also 250 senators -- vote for the prime minister. And because the junta can handpick all 250 senators. Since Palang Pracharat and its allies can count on the senators not to betray the junta, they only need 126 lower house members to vote for Prayuth, to bring him back as prime minister and form the next government.

On the other side of the aisle, anti-junta forces need 376 lower house seats to elect their favored prime minister and form a government. This was seen as extremely unlikely from the very beginning.

As of now, the anti-junta coalition numbers seven parties, led by Pheu Thai, which is linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The Future Forward Party, created by 40-year-old billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, is the coalition's second largest force. As things stand now, the coalition is expected to have 253 lower house seats, enough to vote down budget bills and other pieces of legislation that the next government tries to get through parliament.

"Efforts to form a minority government will bring society to a dead end," Thanathorn warned on Wednesday when the anti-regime parties announced their coalition.

What would a deadlock mean in practice?

It does not paint a picture of functionality. Not only is it possible for the anti-junta coalition to block spending bills, the camp might also demand that the government scale back some ongoing infrastructure projects.

Legislative paralysis lurks, and that could stir up discontent among supporters on each side of the political divide. Social unrest is not out of the question.

In the past, Thai power struggles have led to bloodshed, and in a worst-case scenario violence could return to Bangkok.

What's more, foreign investors shy away from uncertainty and could end up stepping away from the key Southeast Asian economy.

"Another outbreak of protests and violent conflict, similar to those observed in 2010 and 2014, would deal a significant blow to the economy," Gareth Leather, senior Asia economist at Capital Economics, cautioned in a note.

What can we expect in the coming days?

Some observers say the political battle will cool down, at least on the surface, as Thais celebrate. Songkran, or Thai New Year, begins April 13 and can continue for a week in some parts of the country. The coronation of King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun comes on May 4-6.

In the meantime, the election commission will be busy double-checking invalidated ballots and looking into allegations of electoral fraud. If it finds illegal activity on the part of parties or candidates, it could ban those responsible from political office and hold by-elections to fill their seats.

May 9 is the deadline for the commission to announce final and official results.

How do businesses see the situation?

After the election commission revealed an early count on Monday, investors and business leaders had mostly positive reactions. Pro-junta forces seemed to have taken a lead in the popular vote and could be counted on to follow through on their economic policies. The chances for political disruptions or about-faces appeared slim.

Since then, uncertainty has crept into the picture, political deadlock looms, and voices of concern are rising.

"There will be negative momentum and a political vacuum if Thailand does not have a new government take charge within a schedule," Supant Mongkolsuthree, the chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, was quoted as saying in the Bangkok Post. "Once there is instability, firms could consider putting off expansion and investment projects."

Nikkei staff writers Masayuki Yuda and Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat contributed to this article.

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