Polls Close In Thailand's Election

Mar 24, 2019
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Voters went to the polls today in Thailand. It's that country's first election since the 2014 military coup. The current prime minister and army chief who led that coup is attempting to retain power. For more, we're joined by reporter Michael Sullivan in Bangkok.

Hey, Michael.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So what's the scene been like at the polls? What have you heard from voters?

SULLIVAN: Lots of different things in lots of different places - I went to a polling station this morning in an upmarket area of Bangkok. And not surprisingly, many people I spoke to there said they want the coup leader, Prayut Chan-o-cha, to stay. They like the stability that the military government has provided. And they want him to continue. Now, a small number of people in that same district actually expressed some admiration and said they were voting for a new player on the scene, a 40-year-old billionaire who started a new party called Future Forward. And they like his policies. He's anti-military. And he's not like one of the old parties. And that's something that a lot of younger voters like. And there's 7 million young voters voting for the first time in this election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Any idea how this is going to play out?

SULLIVAN: Well, I went to a - some other polling stations in other parts of Bangkok. And those were in more working-class districts. And, you know, support for the party of the deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was high in those places. So it's too early to tell what the result is going to be. It's too early to tell if Prayut is going to win and become prime minister again or if the opposition can manage to cobble together some kind of a coalition government to oppose him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As we mentioned, Thailand's been under military rule. This is the first time that they are actually being able to exercise their sort of democratic rights. How is that being received?

SULLIVAN: Very well - I mean, people have been frustrated because they say that the books have been cooked on this one, that the coup leaders have done everything they can to try to stay in power. For example, there's this 250-seat Senate that's going to be entirely appointed by the military. But at the same time, these people are frustrated. They haven't been able to vote. The last vote was seven years ago. This is the - it's been five years since the coup. This election has been repeatedly delayed while the military gets its ducks in order. And so people were happy to come out today. But there was also apprehension because a lot of people said even though they like the idea of voting, they sort of felt that if it didn't go the military's way, that the military would try to do something to remain in power either way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly, what are people voting about? What are the issues that are motivating them?

SULLIVAN: For a lot of people, it's a simple question of economics. They like the fact that the military has kept things quiet. There's been peace and quiet here because, you know, before, there were lots of street demonstrations. There was violence. That's why the military said it had to step in. But a lot of people are really, really frustrated at the idea that the military has been in power for five years and has now tried to engineer this election so that they remain in power either behind the scenes or upfront for who knows how long.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So with that being the case and a lot of questions about how legitimate this election will be, what are you hearing?

SULLIVAN: There are some allegations of irregularities coming from both sides. So we haven't really seen anything. And we have early exit polling results that show the race is just too close to call right now. We don't know yet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Thank you so much.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR TET'S "CIRCLING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.