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Thai election

Pro-junta party on track for strong showing in Thai election

Winner unclear as authorities prepare to reveal results later Monday

Leaders of major parties in Thailand cast their ballots on March 24. (Photos by Kosaku Mimura, Yohei Muramatsu, Masayuki Yuda and Hiroshi Kotani)

BANGKOK -- Thailand's junta-backed Palang Pracharat Party is projected to have performed better than expected in Sunday's general election, raising the chances of the military government staying in power ahead of official results expected later on Monday.

As of 10 p.m. Sunday, state-owned television station MCOT forecast that the Thaksin Shinawatra-linked Pheu Thai would take 146 seats, with the military government's party getting 141. They are followed by the Future Forward Party on 85 seats, Bhumjaithai on 55 and the Democrats on 36.

If MCOT's estimate is accurate, the junta will have enough seats to keep Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha as the nation's leader. The party's spokesman told reporters Monday that the party aims to form a government after the election, according to Reuters.

The forecast is based on the distribution projection of all 500 lower house seats, including party list winners. Of the lower house's 500 members, 350 will come from single-seat districts. The remaining 150 will be distributed among parties based on how they fared nationwide. The current constitution states that the prime minister should be chosen by a majority of all 750 legislators, a number that includes 250 senators.

Since the junta handpicks the senate, military-aligned parties will need 126 lower house members to keep the incumbent Prayuth on the job.

With more than 90% of the votes counted, the election commission has delayed the announcement of where matters stood, with the results having been expected at around 4 p.m. local time.

The Thaksin-linked Pheu Thai said Monday that it is open to negotiations with other anti-junta parties to form a government.

"This government under formation must respond to the will of the people," Sudarat Keyuraphan, the Thaksin-linked party's premier candidate, said in a news conference.

The election, the military-controlled nation's first in eight years, is being closely watched around the globe to see if Thailand will take a step forward to democracy.

The Bangkok Post reported an unofficial estimate for all 500 seats, also based on commission data. With 93% of the vote counted, Pheu Thai had the lead with 129 seats. Palang Pracharat followed with 117. Bhumjaithai was seen taking 49 seats, with the Democrats winning the same number. Future Forward was seen taking 78 seats.

If Pheu Thai and Future Forward decide to collaborate, they could form an alliance that would come close to having a majority of lower house seats.

According to popular vote figures from the Election Commission, Palang Pracharat garnered the most votes with 7.5 million, with Pheu Thai following at 7.3 million. But these figures do not necessarily reflect the actual makeup of the parliamentary seats to be announced later.

Uttama Savanayana, the leader of the pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party, maintained a calm demeanor on Sunday night. "Even though it appears that we are taking the lead in the vote count, the vote count is yet to complete," he said. "We will wait until the final outcome, and then we will inform you how we will proceed with the next step."

Uttama revealed that he talked with Prayuth, the party's premier candidate, and said that the current prime minister expressed his gratitude to supporters.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Sunday night said he will resign as leader of the Democrats. "It is clear that the outcome of the election is not as I anticipated. I have to take responsibility and I [will] resign immediately," he told a news conference.

Thailand's former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he will resign as leader of the Democrats. (Photo by Yohei Muramatsu)

The early media estimates show no party will be able to form a stable government, which would require a lower house majority as well as enough overall legislators to pave the way for a party's favored prime ministerial candidate. An anti-junta group would need 376 lower house seats if its preferred candidate is to become prime minister.

The possibility remains that pro-junta forces, with or without coalition allies, will emerge with enough legislators to form a government and choose the prime minister but fail to gain a lower house majority. Because lawmaking power is mostly concentrated in the lower house, such a pro-junta government would face challenges passing new laws.

Turnout of the election was 65.96%, lower than many had expected.

The general elections are Thailand's first legitimate polls since 2011. In 2014, voting was disrupted by protesters angry with the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra, younger sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin. The results of that election were later nullified by the Constitutional Court. Amid the political turmoil, military generals pulled off a coup.

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