Final countdown: Thai parties make last-day pitch to voters
Thai opposition leaders toured Bangkok in open-top jeeps Saturday in a final-day bid to woo voters, urging them to turn out in force to oust the military-backed government.
The kingdom goes to the polls on Sunday with voters tipped to issue a damning verdict on former coup leader Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha after nearly a decade in power.
But in a country where coups and court rulings have often overturned election results, there are fears the military could seek to cling on -- despite the army chief insisting there would be no intervention this time.
Pheu Thai's main prime ministerial candidate Paetongtarn Shinawatra waved and made the traditional Thai "wai" greeting to supporters as she toured the streets in an open-top jeep.
Dozens of trucks decked out in the party's scarlet banners paraded from the Democracy Monument towards Bangkok's main shopping district.
Supporters waved flags and chanted: "Pheu Thai landslide."
"I hope Thai people will vote for us to solve your problems," Paetongtarn told reporters.
Despite giving birth to her second child less than two weeks ago, the 36-year-old showed no sign of flagging in the scorching tropical heat.
"It's only been 12 days, I'm a little bit tired but that's OK," she told AFP.
"I'm so excited."
Pheu Thai has been leading opinion polls, but the party's route to power could face roadblocks from a Senate handpicked by the military under the 2017 junta-scripted constitution.
Paetongtarn's billionaire tycoon father Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted as prime minister by a military coup in 2006, while her aunt suffered the same fate at Prayut's hands in 2014.
- Young vs old -
Sunday's poll is the first since major youth-led pro-democracy protests erupted across Bangkok in 2020 with demands to curb the power and spending of Thailand's king -- breaching a long-held taboo on questioning the monarchy.
Those protests fizzled out as Covid-19 curbs were imposed and dozens of leaders were arrested, but their energy has fed into growing support for the rival opposition Move Forward Party (MFP).
MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat made his own push on an open-top truck tour Saturday, rallying support through a loudhailer.
"Please give the younger generation the opportunity to govern the country -- we will take care of the older generation," he told passersby.
The election has shaped up as a generational clash between the pro-democracy opposition, backed by young and rural voters, and the conservative, military-allied royalist establishment embodied by Prayut and his United Thai Nation party.
Prayut, 69, has made an unashamedly nationalist pitch for votes and painted himself as the only candidate capable of saving Thailand from chaos and ruin.
Also in the conservative camp is the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) led by deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan -- another former army chief and coup architect who was close to Prayut until they fell out.
The 77-year-old, long regarded as a canny backroom operator in the shadowy world of Thai politics, has been tipped as a potential kingmaker this time.
As he made his own last push for votes on Saturday, he was keeping his cards close to his chest.
"I don't make any prediction about the result," he told reporters.
On the streets of Bangkok, restaurant owner Penpatcha Chaiboonyachot hoped for a clear result.
"I hope all sides will accept the people's votes and there is no election fraud," she told AFP.
The 95,000 polling stations scattered from the misty forest-clad mountains of Thailand's north to the idyllic palm-fringed sands of the southern beaches open at 8:00 am (0100 GMT) on Sunday.
About 52 million people are eligible to vote -- including four million first-time voters.