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Thai election

Thailand election: How Move Forward's upset win unfolded

PM hopeful Pita Limjaroenrat holds first meeting of budding coalition

Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat, left, waves to supporters during a parade in Bangkok on May 15 to celebrate the opposition party’s election victory.  (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

BANGKOK -- Thais voted on Sunday to choose their next government and delivered a sharp rebuke to the military's grip on politics since the 2014 coup.

A total of 500 seats in the lower house were up for grabs, comprising 400 constituency seats and another 100 "party list" seats to be distributed based on party ballot results. Over 52 million people 18 or older were eligible to vote.

Nikkei Asia followed the election as it happened. We will continue to cover the deal-making and maneuvering as Move Forward, the party with the most seats, attempts to form a government. For the latest, see our Thai election coverage.

Here are some highlights:

Move Forward's electoral surprise puts Thai businesses on edge

How Move Forward shocked Thailand's old guard

Thailand's Move Forward to form coalition with Pheu Thai

Thai GDP grows 2.7% as next government seen focusing on economy

Thailand election handout pledges risk debt pileup, experts say

In pictures: Election enthusiasm sweeps Thailand

Move Forward leader Pita vows to bring 'good politics' to Thailand

Here's how it happened (Thailand time):

Wednesday, May 17

5:00 p.m. Here's the latest seat distribution as we close this timeline-style report.

Nikkei Asia will continue to extensively cover the aftermath of the election -- including whether Move Forward can successfully form a government amid a potential power struggle with the military.

Stay with us for our Thai election coverage.

4:00 p.m. Leaders of six parties in the Move Forward Party's budding coalition gather at a restaurant in Bangkok for their first meeting. Present at the talks are MFP's Pita Limjaroenrat and deputy leader Sirikanya Tansakul, Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew, Prachachat leader Wan Muhammad Nor Matha, Thai Sang Thai leader Sudarat Keyuraphan, Thai Liberal Party leader Sereepisut Temiyavej, and Fair Party leader Pitipong Temcharoen.

12:45 p.m. The Move Forward Party will hold its first transition team meeting to discuss forming a government today, says its secretary general Chaitawat Tulathon. Five groups including Pheu Thai, Thai Sang Thai, the Thai Liberal Party, Prachachart, and the Thai Fair Party will join MFP at an undisclosed location at 4 p.m.

A press briefing on the transition meeting is expected tomorrow.

12:30 p.m. A senator who voted against the upper house's participation in the prime minister vote says he will align with the public consensus in favor of Move Forward.

"As a senator with past experiences in key assignments who had served the nation throughout my life as a civil servant and suffered from domestic conflict before, I would like to take this opportunity to express my intent ... to support the prime ministerial candidate from the party with the largest number of MPs to be the prime minister," Vudhibhandhu Vichairatana writes in an open letter.

Vudhibhandhu was one of the 64 senators addressed in an open letter by Move Forward MP Parit Wacharasindhu yesterday.

11:30 a.m. An executive of the Democrat Party says he will propose backing Pita Limjaroenrat of the Move Forward Party for prime minister.

Democrat deputy leader Alongkorn Ponlaboot writes on Facebook: "Given that 14 million people have chosen MFP as No. 1 of the country, both for constituency and party list, Democrats must respect the people's voice by voting for MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat to be the prime minister with no condition on the government coalition, in case MFP can successfully combine votes making up the majority in the lower house."

Move Forward and Pheu Thai leaders have put pressure on the Democrat Party as well as the Bhumjaithai Party to cross the line and support the winning party for the premiership.

11:00 a.m. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra overnight praised the Move Forward Party's election victory, saying his Pheu Thai party "did not disrupt ourselves enough" and was discredited by speculation of a coalition deal with military-linked parties.

Move Forward's win, Thaksin said, was "a wake-up call for the army. Using excessive power is something Thai society rejects."

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra speaks during an interview on March 24 in Tokyo. (Photo by Yuki Kohara) 

Thaksin, who has been in self-exile since he was ousted by a military coup in 2006, called on Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan to "hang up their gloves." He also said Pheu Thai, which has agreed to form a coalition with Move Forward, would not support any action against the monarchy.

"Whatever will be will be," Thaksin said when asked about his plans to return to Thailand in July despite facing a prison sentence.

Tuesday, May 16

2:40 p.m. The Move Forward Party's chief strategist pens an open letter to the senators, whose votes they need to select a prime minister. Parit Wacharasindhu lists reasons for the Senate to support a prime minister from the winning party, as well as counterarguments for senators who indicated they would oppose Pita Limjaroenrat's nomination.

"It should not be your right in a democratic system to oppose the consensus of the public, which expressed clearly through vote casting that change is what they want to see," he writes. Parit, a nephew of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, includes the names of 64 senators who had voted to abolish Section 272 of the Constitution, which allows senators to participate in the prime minister vote.

2:00 p.m. The Bhumjaithai Party, whose 71 seats could make or break a prime minister nomination, is waiting for the official election results before deciding next steps. "Bhumjaithai would like to affirm the party's principle, which is the political party that is No. 1 in the election shall form the government," the party says in a statement. It adds that it will "wait for the official result of the election by the Election Commission, after which we will hold an executive committee meeting to consider the direction of the party."

Election officials have up to 60 days after the vote to announce official results of at least 95% of constituencies.

1:00 p.m. An independent senator says he will support a prime minister from a party that gathers a combined 250 seats, but that the Move Forward Party would struggle to win over senators offended by its rhetoric.

"In the past four years at parliamentary sessions, MFP is the only party that seems to have a problem with the Senate. They picked on senators and showed no respect," says Chalermchai Fuangkon.

In an online media interview, Chalermchai advises Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat to "tone it down if he wants to be prime minister" or negotiate with Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul's Bhumjaithai Party, which won 71 seats.

"Another route they can try is to get votes from Bhumjaithai, but if Move Forward touches 112, Bhumjaithai won't be in on it," she said, referring to Article 112 of the criminal code, which punishes insults to the monarchy.

11:50 a.m. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha makes his first public comments after the election to thank voters for exercising their right and congratulating all political parties.

"From now on, they are in the process of establishing a government which I welcome, and I ask all Thai people to cooperate to create love, unity and stability for the nation without conflict," he tells reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting. "While waiting for the new government to perform their duties, I will continue to do my best as prime minister and head of government."

9:30 a.m. Pheu Thai's popular leaders throw their weight behind Pita Limjaroenrat's bid for prime minister. Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the 36-year-old political scion, posted on social channels to "confirm my original stance and my respect for the principle of democracy."

"The Pheu Thai party and I are prepared to vote for the person who has received the consensus from the people," she wrote.

Property tycoon and fellow Pheu Thai candidate Srettha Thavisin has called on the Bhumjaithai and Democrat parties to cross the line and vote for Pita. "Many parties (Bhumjaithai, Democrat) had previously expressed their stance that they did not support the 2017 Constitution that gave senators the power to vote for the prime minister. Now is the time for them to follow their stance."

9:00 a.m. As Move Forward executives begin coalition talks, an influential senator has spoken out. Wanchai Somsiri, who has advocated for the senate's role in selecting a prime minister, has told local media that members will consider other factors aside from the election outcome.

"I'm not sure that the No. 1 party will always be able to form a government," he says, noting that Move Forward did not win a simple majority of 251 lower house seats.

Although voters on Sunday issued a clear rebuke to rule by the armed forces, the 250 military-backed senators remain a critical factor. Another senator, Somchai Sawangkarn, said the prime minister "must be honest and not cause problems in the country," and that a lower house majority would not be enough to win his vote, according to Reuters. "If there is a possibility of creating division in the country, I will not vote for them."

But there is also growing pressure on the senators to "listen" to the people, as Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat put it.

The head of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, an organization founded by progressive lawmakers across Southeast Asia, urged the Thai military to "open their eyes and ears to what the Thai people are demanding."

"For years, protesters have taken to the streets, calling for democracy and human rights. They have now backed this up in the ballot box," said Charles Santiago, APHR's co-chair and a former MP in Malaysia. "Subverting the election results and blocking the formation of a new government by the winning parties would be an unconscionable betrayal that would only result in unrest and instability."

Monday, May 15

5:30 p.m. Hundreds of Move Forward supporters gather as party leader Pita Limjaroenrat parades around Bangkok's Democracy Monument to celebrate the election result.

1:30 p.m. Pheu Thai holds a news conference, confirming plans to team up with the Move Forward Party.

Cholnan Srikaew, the head of the party, says Pheu Thai members "are glad that the MFP got the [most] seats and we are willing to support them to form the government." He adds that Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat's plan to gather a total of 309 seats with other parties is the right approach. "The idea to have 309 seats is good and I think it would lead to a vigorous government, which can push forward policies that they promised the people," Chonlanan says.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the party's first prime minister candidate, says she and Pita exchanged congratulatory words earlier today and that they chatted "to check the mood" for forming a coalition. She says the two parties will hold more serious talks on the details of their arrangement. "We have been working as the opposition parties for years, so I think we can continue our job smoothly together," she says.

12:10 p.m. Move Forward's Pita Limjaroenrat speaks, confirming that he has talked to parties including Pheu Thai, Prachachart, Thai Sang Thai and the Thai Liberal Party. He says this puts his budding coalition in line for 308 seats. He adds that he is now in talks with another small party to get to 309 seats. "With this formula, it is clear that we have a full right to form a majority government," Pita says.

He says Move Forward, Pheu Thai and other parties have already set up a transition team.

He also issues a message for the 250 military-backed senators, whose votes have the power to sway the choice of prime minister. "It is time for the 250 senators to think and decide their stance, whether they would listen to the people's wish. If they care about the people, there will be no problem" for Move Forward to eventually form a majority government.

Move Forward's Pita Limjaroenrat meets the press on May 15, after his party's surprisingly strong performance in Thailand's general election. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

12:00 p.m. The Election Commission has provided party list numbers based on the current reporting. Combined with constituency seats, Move Forward has likely won 151 seats, followed by Pheu Thai at 141. That would give the two opposition groups 292, falling short of the 376 threshold they would need to choose a prime minister themselves.

For the incumbent conservative camp, Bhumjaithai looks to have won 71, Palang Pracharath 40, Prayuth Chan-ocha's United Thai Nation 36, and the Democrat Party 25.

The commission says 17 parties have qualified to receive party list seats. It will allocate these seats by the following method: The total of all party list votes will be divided by 100 to determine the average vote for each seat. Each party's total votes will be divided by that average to yield the number of seats. Any leftover seats will be allocated one by one to the parties in order of rank.

11:30 a.m. Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew said this morning that his party is ready to join a coalition with Move Forward, but that it would wait for the latter -- which won the most seats -- to initiate the discussion. That may already be in the works: Move Forward secretary-general Chaitawat Tulathon said leader Pita Limjaroenrat messaged Pheu Thai prime minister candidate Paetongtarn Shinawatra late last night to suggest that the parties work together.

10:30 a.m. The Election Commission says Thailand saw a record turnout of 75.22% in Sunday's election. They received 592 complaints while voting took place. "The priority is accuracy. If it's fast and wrong, we don't want to do it," says Ittiporn Boonpracong, the commission's chairman.

10:30 a.m. Move Forward's and Pheu Thai's electoral success dominates the front pages of Thailand's newspapers this morning. The English-language Bangkok Post declares their performance at the polls a "triumph." The Thai Post says that orange and red have "seized the country," referring to the colors of Move Forward and Pheu Thai, respectively. Matichon says Move Forward's Pita Limjaroenrat is "approaching" the premier position.

8:00 a.m. With 99% of polling sites reporting, Move Forward maintains its lead in the constituent seat projections and party list votes. It has won more than 14 million party list votes and is expected to take 113 constituency seats.Pheu Thai earned over 10 million party list votes, with a projected 111 constituency seats. Combined, the two parties have 63% of the vote share.

Bhumjaithai is ahead of other conservative parties with 68 constituency seats, followed by Palang Pracharath at 39 seats. Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat is expected to hold a press conference to "declare victory" at noon.

The 42-year-old Pita already tweeted something close to a declaration in the early hours of Monday, writing that he is "ready to be the 30th Prime Minister of Thailand" and vowing to serve all Thais whether they voted for him or not.

The pro-military camp, which had a devastating night at the polls, still has 250 military-appointed senators that will be factored into a vote for prime minister. As even a hypothetical united front of Move Forward and Pheu Thai would lack the necessary 376 lower house seats necessary to make those senators irrelevant, some difficult negotiations likely lie ahead.

12:30 a.m. Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit resigns as leader of the conservative Democrat Party, which is projected to lose seats for the second consecutive election.

12:10 a.m. Move Forward gains nearly 10 million party list votes after 80% of polling stations have reported. Pheu Thai stands at 7.9 million party list votes. Move Forward also leads fellow opposition Pheu Thai in projections for lower house constituency results by three seats.

Sunday, May 14

11:28 p.m. Pheu Thai executives ask the media to wait for the final results, as 73% of polling sites have reported and the Move Forward Party is in the lead.

"The current results are very close and not final," stresses Srettha Thavisin, one of Pheu Thai's prime minister candidates. "We can't say if we will join with MFP. We follow the democratic system: Whoever gets the most votes gets to form the government."

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Pheu Thai's other prime minister hopeful and the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is asked about Move Forward's unexpected lead. "I'm happy for them," she says. "We have worked together before."

Pheu Thai prime minister candidates Srettha Thavisin, in the background, and Paetongtarn Shinawatra meet the press at party headquarters in Bangkok on May 14. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

10:50 p.m. With 60% of polling stations reporting, Move Forward continues to lead in party list votes at 26.86% to Pheu Thai's 23.19%, as well as constituency seat projections. United Thai Nation is a distant third at 9.11%.

10:45 p.m. Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, founder of United Thai Nation, says the election results so far are a "good start" for the fledgling party.

"We are confident that we did our best, especially Prayuth," he says of the party's prime ministerial candidate, the incumbent Prayuth Chan-ocha. Asked if the party would try to form a government, Pirapan says no talks have taken place with other parties. "We won't do anything that's against procedure," he says.

10:35 p.m. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the incumbent prime minister and former general who led the 2014 military coup, has called it a night. He left the United Thai Nation headquarters a little while ago.

10:10 p.m. Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat speaks on what is shaping up to be a big night for his opposition party.

"We are starting to be confident that we can reach our goal of at least 100 seats, maybe even 160 or more," he says. While there is still quite a ways to go, he says the preliminary results suggest a minority government can be all but ruled out. He says Move Forward has won all constituencies in Bangkok, even though four districts have not finished counting.

"The only parties with more than 100 seats are MFP and Pheu Thai, and the current ruling parties are unlikely to get 100 seats," he says of the projections.

Asked if he has contacted Pheu Thai about a potential coalition, he responds: "Not yet, we want the official result first. We're confident on our side but we want the official result first ... No discussions with any party yet."

Pita reiterates that "if any of the generals are involved, Moved Forward will not be part of that government." He vows to call a party executive meeting tonight or tomorrow to talk about forming a government "in line with what we promised."

Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat speaks during a press conference at the party's headquarters in Bangkok on May 14. (Photo by Adryel Talamantes)

10:00 p.m. Over 41% of polling places have finished counting. Move Forward is still in the lead for party list votes at 26.16%, and has jumped ahead of Pheu Thai in projected constituency seats, although there are plenty of ballots left to count.

9:40 p.m. Heavy rain from Tropical Cyclone Mocha is forcing vote counters to move election paraphernalia indoors and delaying reports from some regions, according to local media.

9:30 p.m. With 30% of polling stations reporting and 18.52% of votes counted, Move Forward still leads in party list votes at 25%. Pheu Thai currently has 22.5% of party list votes.

Overall, the Election Commission's reporting platform has Pheu Thai and Move Forward ahead of the pack. The latter's party's leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, is now expected to speak at 10 p.m. Around 150 reporters and supporters are waiting at Move Forward's headquarters, where they've set up stalls offering food and craft beer.

9:15 p.m. Pheu Thai prime minister nominee Srettha Thavisin speaks to reporters gathered at party headquarters. "We are confident that once the result is out, we will lead," he says. Asked if Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat has reached out to begin coalition talks, Srettha says, "Not yet."

The two opposition forces are locked in a tight race. Meanwhile, Pita is expected to delay his appearance to 10 p.m.

Srettha Thavisin, a prime minister candidate for Pheu Thai, speaks to reporters at party headquarters in Bangkok on May 14. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

9:05 p.m. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, leader of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, speaks briefly to thank voters. "It's too early to say anything about forming a government yet," he says. Palang Pracharath currently stands in sixth place with 1.02% of party list votes, after 20% of polling places finished counting.

The party list system in this election is a major difference from the previous vote in 2019. Back then, voters were given just one ballot to cast for their preferred candidate, and the party list count was determined based on those votes. Constitutional amendments in 2021 gave voters two ballots -- one to cast for a candidate, and the other for a party.

8:45 p.m. Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat is expected to speak at 9 p.m. at the party headquarters, as they lead at 20.99% of party list votes, with 15% of polling places reporting. Pheu Thai leaders, sitting at 19.24%, have postponed their press appearances.

8:30 p.m. With over 12% of polling places reporting, Move Forward has grown its lead in party list votes, with 19.46% to Pheu Thai's 17.72%. United Thai Nation has 7.11%.

8:15 p.m. The count is speeding up, with finished reports from 8,455 out of around 95,000 polling places. Move Forward has jumped ahead with 16.58% of party list votes followed by Pheu Thai at 15.69% and United Thai Nation at 6.04%. We're still waiting for a clearer read on the constituency seats.

8:05 p.m. Nearly 6,000 polling places -- out of 95,000 -- have now finished counting. Pheu Thai has regained the lead in terms of party list votes, with 15.28%. Move Forward is just behind at 15.27%. United Thai Nation remains in third at 5.73%.

The constituency seats, meanwhile, remain up in the air, with only a few districts having counted more than 50% of votes.

7:45 p.m. With 3.46% of polling places finished, the party list count remains a close battle, with 100 of the 500 lower house seats at stake. Move Forward has edged ahead with a 13.36% share versus Pheu Thai's 12.94%. United Thai Nation trails at 4.81% and Bhumjaithai at 1.94%.

7:00 p.m. Two hours after voting closed, 1,382 polling places have finished counting. Pheu Thai is ahead of Move Forward in party list votes by around 2,000.

6:45 p.m. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is mobbed by news media as he arrives at United Thai Nation party headquarters. "I want to thank the Thai people for voting. Everything depends on their vote and if they decide to vote for others it's up to them," he says.

Asked if he has a message for parties in the lead, he replies, "No, I have nothing to do with them."

Polling station staffers count ballots in Bangkok after a day of voting. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

6:37 p.m. Of 95,137 polling sites, 167 have finished counting ballots, according to the Election Commission's reporting website. Pheu Thai is currently ahead of Move Forward in terms of constituent seats and party list votes.

6:10 p.m. Slightly over an hour after polls closed, the Election Commission's official count stands at just 0.22% completed. Only 11 polling stations, or 0.01%, have finished counting.

6:00 p.m. Bars and restaurants in Bangkok resume serving alcoholic beverages, as the ban on liquor sales during the election ends. But the capital is quiet with minimal traffic as the country waits for the election results.

Restaurants and bars like this one in Bangkok are once again permitted to sell alcohol. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

5:55 p.m. Move Forward leads in party list votes with more than 21,000, local media numbers show. Pheu Thai has 9,000 and United Thai Nation has 6,000.

5:20 p.m. More numbers from the just-released National Institute of Development Administration poll: Pheu Thai is projected to win 164 to 172 seats, far from the party's target of 286 to 310. Move Forward would come in second at 80 to 88 seats, followed by the Bhumjaithai Party at 72 to 80 and the ruling Palang Pracharath Party at 53 to 61. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's United Thai Nation is projected to win 45 to 53 seats in its first election. Again, these are the results of polling conducted over the past two weeks.

Another projection by the King Prajadhipok's Institute sees 140 to 141 seats for Pheu Thai and 136 to 137 for Move Forward. United Thai Nation would be in third with 60 to 61 seats.

5:07 p.m. Pheu Thai prime minister candidate Paetongtarn Shinawatra arrives at the party's headquarters in Bangkok with her husband and daughter. Surrounded by the press at the entrance, she urges reporters to wait for the final results. "If we get the majority, it is our right to form a government," she says.

5:00 pm. The National Institute of Development Administration releases its final poll of Bangkok voters, conducted over the past two weeks. The Move Forward Party is projected to sweep 32 of 33 districts in Bangkok, the province with the most seats. Pheu Thai is poised to take only one district, according to NIDA's numbers, as reported by local media.

A voter casts his ballot at a polling station in Bangkok on May 14. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

5:00 p.m. The polls have closed, and the counting is about to begin. We can expect rough results to be known later in the evening.

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