Thai vote results delayed, anti-junta party seeks leadership

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The leader of Pheu Thai Party and candidate for prime minister Sudarat Keyuraphan, second right, and contestants wave during an election rally of general elections in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Bangkok (AP) — Thailand’s anti-junta Pheu Thai party said Monday it will try to form a government despite losing the popular vote to a military-backed party in the first election since a 2014 coup, highlighting the nation’s deep political polarization.

Separately, the Election Commission said it will announce the results of 350 constituency seats later Monday but full vote counts, which are needed to determine the allocation of 150 other seats in the House of Representatives, won’t be available until Friday.

Pheu Thai leader Sudarat Keyurapha said it won the most constituency seats in Sunday’s election and will try to form a government with similar-minded parties.

But the party faces an uphill battle because selection of the next prime minister will be decided by the 500-member lower house as well as a 250-member junta-appointed Senate.

Unofficial results show the military-backed Palang Pracharat party won the popular vote, which along with the appointed Senate, puts junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in a relatively strong position to stay in office and cobble together a coalition government.

The election is the latest chapter in a nearly two-decade struggle pitching conservative forces including the military against the political machine of Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon who upended tradition-bound Thailand politics with a populist political revolution.

Thaksin was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 military coup and now lives in exile abroad to avoid a prison term, but parties allied with him have won every election since 2001. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who led the Pheu Thai government that was ousted in 2014, also fled the country after what supporters said was a politically motivated prosecution.

The blunt-speaking Prayuth, who as army chief led the 2014 coup, has aimed to extend his hold on power by engineering a new political system that stifles the influence of big political parties not aligned with Palang Pracharat and the military.