Thailand's parliament has been dissolved in advance of what is expected to be a fiercely contested general election in early May. The new United Thai Nation party of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha will primarily face opposition from the Pheu Thai party, led by the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Paetongtarn.
The billionaire Thaksin was deposed by a military coup in 2006. Paetongtarn, 36, has led Mr. Prayuth for months in opinion polls. A date for the election has not been determined, but it must occur within 60 days of the dissolution of the legislature. However, dozens of parties have already begun their campaigns.
Bangkok's sidewalks are being obliterated by a deluge of campaign posters containing various promises to voters. Ultimately, however, this election boils down to one question: can Pheu Thai can win by a large enough margin to regain power?
Nearly every poll predicts that it will again be the largest party, as it has been in every election for the past 22 years, relying on Mr. Thaksin's strong support in the north and north-east. Some believe it could win an outright majority in the lower house. But that may not be enough, given the enduring hostility of conservative royalists and the military towards him and his allies. In the past, judicial rulings or military coups prevented three governments supported by Thaksin, including one led by his sister Yingluck, from completing their terms.
Mr. Prayut, a retired general, has been in power since he led a coup against the government of Ms. Yingluck. Mr. Thaksin has been in exile for fifteen years, evading a long list of criminal charges while many of his lieutenants have been disqualified from politics.
His daughter is the most recent Shinawatra family member to lead the party. Nonetheless, he still looms over this election like a ghost.
After the previous coup, the military resolved to end the Thaksin issue for good by rewriting the constitution to prevent his party from gaining power. They appointed 250 senators, the majority of whom were presumed to still be loyal to coup leaders Generals Prayuth and Prawit Wongsuwan.
It is with the support of the senators and after considerable manoeuvring, Pheu Thai was unable to win the 2019 election. Since then, the two generals have led a fractious conservative coalition. However, they now lead separate parties, which risks dividing the conservative vote.
Under the constitution drafted by the military, senators have one more opportunity to vote on the next prime minister. Even if Pheu Thai wins a majority, the two generals could still form a government with their support. However, senators cannot vote on laws or budgets, rendering ineffective any administration dependent on their support. If Pheu Thai wins more than 200 of the 500 contested seats, it will be difficult or impossible to keep them out of the next government. No one can rule out another extra-parliamentary move against the party in Thailand; not a coup this time, but perhaps another dissolution of the party by the reliably conservative courts.