The main opposition party, Pheu Thai, is led by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister. Recent polls suggest Pheu Thai has a clear lead over the Democrat party, led by incumbent prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Now a fugitive after being found guilty of corruption offences in 2008, Thaksin remains a dominant presence in Thai politics. In the televised interview Gen Prayuth appealed to voters not to be “blinded by personalities” and to vote for politicians who don’t break laws. “If you allow a repeat of the same election pattern, then we will always get the same result, and there will be no improvement,” he said. Parties associated with Thaksin have gained the highest number of votes in Thailand’s past four general elections.
Thaksin was removed from office in a bloodless military coup, supported by Prayuth, in 2006. Since then the country’s politics have been marked by increasing unrest.
In Tuesday’s interview Prayuth claimed that the election campaign had featured widespread infringements of the country’s strict laws on insulting the royal family. The general named no names, but has previously ordered the arrest of activists associated with the opposition movement for alleged lèse-majesté offences. Before the 2006 coup Thai courts saw fewer than 10 lèse-majesté cases per year. Since 2006 there have been a total of more than 400.
Since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, Thailand has faced 18 coup attempts. The army frequently stresses its impartiality in political matters, despite having had a hand in most of the coups. In March this year Gen Prayuth stated: “The military will be strictly neutral in the upcoming poll and will not dictate how votes should be cast.”
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