Leader of Pheu Thai party insists on right to form government as votes counted

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The leader of Pheu Thai Party and candidate for prime minister Sudarat Keyuraphan reaches to shake hands of supporters during an election rally concluding their campaign ahead of general election in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Bangkok (AP) — The leader of the party ousted in a coup five years ago insisted Sunday that the political grouping with the most votes in Thailand’s election should form a government, as unofficial results showed her party leading a military-backed rival.

Voting stations closed at 5 p.m. and meaningful results were expected within several hours. The formation of a new government, likely to be unstable and short-lived, could take weeks of haggling.

In addition to early vote counts, an opinion survey taken in the days before the election and released after voting closed indicated that the ousted party, Pheu Thai, allied with Thailand’s exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, would win the most parliamentary seats but not enough to govern alone.

The military-backed Palang Pracharat party, meanwhile, would win the second-highest number of seats, according to the Suan Dusit survey of nearly 80,000 voters.

“I insist that the party that receives the most votes has the right to form the government first,” Pheu Thai leader Sudarat Keyuraphan said a news conference after voting closed.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the blunt-speaking army chief who led the 2014 coup, is hoping to extend his hold on power after engineering a new political system that aims to stifle the influence of big political parties not aligned with the military.