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Who are the main contenders in Thailand's election?

STORY: It's been described as a pivotal moment for democracy in Thailand...

as some 52 million people head to the polls on Sunday.

After a coup in 2014 and nearly a decade of a government led or backed by the royalist military...

voters have the chance to elect members of a new 500-seat house of representatives.

[Prajak Kongkirati, Associate Professor of Political Science, Thammasat University]

"The whole world is watching this election. And the military now is not that influential, right?"

Let's take a look at who the main contenders are.

On the one side we have the party of incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha -

a former army general who seized power in the coup nine years ago before refashioning himself as a civilian leader.

His newly formed party - the United Thai Party - is running on the promise of continuity and has vowed to protect conservative values and the monarchy.

On the other side is the Pheu Thai party - which Prayuth ousted from power -

Controlled by the billionaire Shinawatra family, it's the largest party in Thailand and has been popular with the rural and urban working class.

Polls say it is likely to win the most seats as it has in every vote since 2001.

[Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Pheu Thai Party]

"Right now, I think the country needs a lot of change, because it's been suffering for eight years. When I imagine my kids are growing up in this country, I see no future, I see only, like, debts in every section of everything

Seeking to capitalize on the youth vote is the Move Forward party...

which has been enjoying a late surge in the polls,

thanks to the appeal of its Harvard-educated leader, Pita Limjaroenrat.

Sunday’s election is the first to be held since mass youth-led protests in 2020, which called for the military to be removed from politics.

The Move Forward party was not officially part of the student protests...

but some activists are running as party candidates and many are party workers.

It's also the only party pushing for amendments to Thailand's strict royal insult law... that punishes offenders with up to 15 years in jail.

Another important contender is the regional heavyweight, Bhumjaithai...

The party's stature has grown with its successful push to make Thailand Asia's first country to legalize the sale of cannabis.

The party's seats could be crucial in determining who forms a government.

So how will a leader be chosen?

Parties winning more than 25 seats can nominate their prime ministerial candidate,

although it is likely parties will strike deals between them to back certain candidates.

Those chosen will be put to a vote, likely in August, of the newly elected lower house.

But Senate also has a vote and its 250 seats are appointed by the military,

There is, however, a sense that this time things may be different.

[Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, Professor of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University]

“In the 2019 election, no matter how people voted, it was quite certain that General Prayuth will be the prime minister. That seems like there's no other way around. But this time, this uncertainty is overwhelming and it's very possible that General Prayut might be sidelined.”