Its election crunch time in Bangkok

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit gestures as he arrives for the party's final major campaign rally in Bangkok on 22 March, 2019, ahead of the 24 March general election. (Jewel Samad / AFP Photo)

Parties for and against Thailand's military junta rallied across Bangkok on Friday, as election fever gripped the country ahead of its first poll in eight years.

The boisterous final push before the 24 March showdown was infused with rarely seen levels of excitement and backlit by symbolism from afar, with the family of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra holding a politically star-studded wedding in Hong Kong on the same night.

The generals who seized power in 2014 are hoping to hold on through the ballot box with the help of military-appointed Senators who can vote for the prime minister of their choice.

But they face several parties linked to the influential Shinawatra family, which has won every election since 2001.

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and his sister Yingluck's administration was toppled by the army in the 2014 power grab.

Thailand is broadly divided between pro-Shinawatra factions and an elite aligned with the military, which has portrayed itself as a stabilising force and defender of the country's monarchy. 

But loyalties are more complex now with more than seven million first-time voters aged between 18 to 25 and new parties in the electoral mix.

The most prominent is Future Forward, led by charismatic frontman Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a 40-year-old billionaire popular with millennials and others weary of Thailand's old divides.

Thousands of Future Forward supporters decked out in the country's trademark orange colour waved flags and glow sticks at a stadium in Bangkok on Friday night ahead of Thanathorn's appearance, as he prepped backstage.

"My age group don't want the old politics," said a 23-year-old accounting student and first-time voter Phastararin Sittsart standing alongside other young supporters.

"We are worried about what happens to the economy after we graduate if this government carries on."

Final countdown

Political buzz galvanised multiple rallies across the Thai capital as the sun went down.

Coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha led the 2014 putsch and is running as a candidate for Phalang Pracharath, a proxy party for the junta.

But he is facing the electoral machine of Pheu Thai, the Thaksin-affiliated party that still taps a deep sense of loyalty from the poor but populous rural north and northeast.

"Pheu Thai has had a long history with people – they are strong with all people," said Sharpay Janperng, 26, manager at an education company, during a packed rally for the party.

The ex-cop turned billionaire telecoms mogul has been in self-exile since 2008 to avoid a jail term on corruption charges.

But he still sits at the heart of Thailand's political breakdown. 

Earlier this month the dissolution of one of his parties – Thai Raksa Chart – hampered an election strategy of cobbling together votes under a party list system.

Thai Raksa Chart had proposed Princess Ubolratana as its candidate for premier, but the Thai monarchy is nominally above the political fray and King Maha Vajiralongkorn struck down the move.

Ubolratana was seen at Thaksin's daughter's wedding in Hong Kong on Friday night.

When reporters asked him who will win the election as he arrived at the luxury hotel, Thaksin replied: "I don't know." - AFP