Forty-two parties will contest in the July 3 general elections in Thailand, with the ruling Democrat Party and opposition Puea Thai Party fighting for first place and others vying for stakes in what is expected to be a coalition government.
Al Jazeera looks at the 8 main contestants in Sunday’s race.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s ruling Democrat Party was founded in 1946. It is conservative, pro-monarchy and establishment, backed by the military and most of the Bangkok-based elite.
The ruling party hasn’t won a general election in two decades and only came to power in a parliamentary vote in 2008 after the previous ruling party was dissolved by the courts.
The Democrats are popular with middle-class voters and have strong support in the south and Bangkok.
They enjoy backing from conservative elites and the military’s top brass, though having struggled to win over the poor – the majority of Thai voters.
The Democrats have since launched a series of populist programs to broaden support.
It is seen as most capable party to handle the economy.
|Pheu Thai (‘for Thais’) Party|
Pheu Thai is the third and latest incarnation of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party, which won the 2001 and 2005 elections in landslides.
Thaksin controls Puea Thai from self-imposed exile in Dubai and its campaign is built around his image and his populist policies.
His sister Yingluck, a 44-year-old businesswoman, is its candidate to be prime minister. She will become the country’s first woman to hold the position if elected.
Thaksin has dubbed Yingluck, 44, his “clone” and she is seen as his political proxy, echoing much of his earlier populist platform and raising the possibility of an amnesty for politicians including her brother.
Puea Thai’s powerbase is the vote-rich north and northeast.
It has the backing of the powerful “Red Shirts”, a protest movement of the rural and urban poor.
The association may be a turn off for swing voters as might be Puea Thai’s idea of a possible general amnesty that would help Thaksin to return home – a scenario that could trigger more turmoil.
Early opinion polls show Puea Thai in a comfortable lead over the Democrats, but the party has powerful enemies among the establishment and military elites and might have dificult forming a coalition.
|Bhumjai Thai (‘pride of Thailand’) Party|
Bhumjai Thai is the second-biggest partner in the ruling coalition.
It is controlled by Newin Chidchob, the influential power-broker who was Thaksin’s right-hand-man before turning against him.
Bhumjai Thai has alliance with the Chart Thai Pattana Party to gain political leverage in anticipation of a new coalition. But the deal is seen more as rhetoric than reality.
It was implicated in numerous corruption scandals that dogged the current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government.
It has fierce rivalry with Puea Thai.
Many of its members are former Thaksin allies who defected and Puea Thais have ruled out possibility of the two parties forming a coalition.
Early polls suggest Bhumjai Thai has not increased its support.
Policy pleges include a 2 percentage point cut in value-added tax, a crop price guarantee fund for farmers and monthly payments to elderly and medical volunteers.
|Chart Thai Pattana (‘Thai nation development’) Party|
Chart Thai Pattana is led by Banharn Silpa-arch, a banned politician.
It enjoys solid support in the central region. It promotes national reconciliation in appeal to Thais fed up with constant political upheaval.
With Banharn’s deal-making skills, it will be central to any horse-trading if another coalition is on the cards.
Most analysts say Chart Thai is most likely party to agree to join a Puea Thai-led coalition.
But Banharn’s record suggests his loyalty can never be guaranteed.
|Chart Pattana Puea Pandin (‘nation development for the homeland’) Party|
Chart Pattana Puea Pandin is a new party which is effectively an amalgamation of two coaltion members: Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana and Puea Pandin.
It is run by Suwat Liptapanlop, who like Banharn is also banned from politics.
Suwat is former ally of Thaksin and seen as another potential coalition partner, if Pheu Thai beat the Democrats by a big enough margin.
Chart Pattana Puea Pandin uses fuel subsidies and sport development to attract voters, fielding soccer stars and former olympic medalists as candidates.
|Matabhum (‘motherland’) Party|
Matabhum is led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the army chief who led the 2006 military coup.
Its target voters are ehnic Malay muslims in the south, which is home to a violent separatist movement.
It is aiming for 8 of 11 seats available, which could be a blow to the Democrats.
|Rak Santi (‘peace lovers’) Party|
Purachai Plumsombun, an ex-policeman who co-founded the TRT Party in 1998 with Thaksin, has returned to Thai politics with this new Rak Santi Party.
It could garner him some support with clean image as a former social order crusader.
Rak Santi members deny the party is a nominee to help Pheu Thai by splitting the vote in Bangkok, a Democrat stronghold that offers 33 house seats.
|Rak Prathet Thai (‘love Thailand’) Party|
Rak Prathet Thai is a new party led by Thailand’s most colourful politician, Chuwit Kamolvisit, a former massage parlor tycoon and self-styled graft-buster.
His charisma, celebrity status and comical marketing campaign has earned his tiny party a good showing in opinion polls, illustrating his appeal mong voters bored by politics.
Social Action is part of the current coalition with just one portfolio, and it has kept a low profile so far.