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    HomeWorldThailand Heads to the Polls: Renewed Conflict in Old Rivalries

    Thailand Heads to the Polls: Renewed Conflict in Old Rivalries

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    Thailand is having an election on Sunday, with the opposition parties expected to gain the most seats. The Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties are two of the progressive opposition parties that are likely to do well. However, it is uncertain whether either party will be able to govern due to parliamentary rules written by the military after their coup in 2014.

    The billionaire Shinawatra family, who are the driving force behind Pheu Thai, are up against a group of old money, military and conservatives who have been responsible for toppling three of the populist movement’s four governments. The seeds of conflict were sown in 2001 when Thaksin Shinawatra, a brash capitalist upstart, was swept to power on a pro-poor, pro-business platform that challenged patronage networks and energised disenfranchised rural masses.

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    Thaksin’s detractors viewed him as corrupt and a demagogue who abused his position to build his own power base and further enrich his family. Mass protests broke out in Bangkok during his second term in office and he was toppled by the military in 2006. His sister Yingluck’s government suffered the same fate eight years later. Now, his daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra, a political neophyte, is running for prime minister.

    The populist approach of Pheu Thai and its predecessors has been so successful that rival forces now offer strikingly similar policies. The military-backed Palang Pracharat promises a handout of 30,000 baht ($890) each to 7.5 million farming families, a big increase in allowances for the elderly and infrastructure projects in Thailand’s poorest region. The United Thai Nation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup against Pheu Thai’s last government, has pledged debt relief, cheaper electricity for low-income groups and subsidies for transport and crop harvesting.

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    The election is a test of the conservative roots and the future of progressiveness. Move Forward, led by 42-year-old Harvard alumnus Pita Limjaroenrat, is hoping to dismantle monopolies, weaken the military’s political role and amend a strict law against insulting the monarchy that critics say is used to stifle dissent. The fight for power in Thailand is more than a grudge match between the polarising Shinawatra clan and its influential rivals, with signs of a generational shift and hankering for more progressive government.

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