Thailand's Democrat Party Keeps Ex-Premier as Leader Before Poll

(Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s Democrat Party retained Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former prime minister, as its leader ahead of a general election expected in 2019 that would end more than four years of military rule.

Abhisit won almost all of the votes from core party members in the leadership ballot, Trairong Suwankiri, a Democrat Party official, said in a briefing in Bangkok on Sunday.

The Democrat Party is among several making preparations ahead of the vote expected on Feb. 24. The main opposition Pheu Thai Party, which led the government that was ousted in a 2014 coup, selected its leader last month. A party that includes key members of the military government, Palang Pracharath, made a debut in September.

The junta had repeatedly delayed the time-line for a return to some form of democratic government. On Nov. 8, it reiterated the Feb. 24 date for voting, but in recent days the military government has also said the window for holding the election could stretch to May.

The Democrat Party will be a key player in the national poll, if it decides to side with a coalition that backs the return of the junta leader, Prayuth Chan-Ocha, as prime minister, according to Duncan McCargo, professor of Southeast Asian politics at the University of Leeds.

Pheu Thai and other parties linked to ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra have won the past five elections, only to be unseated by the courts or the military. The discord reflects deep fissures in Thai society between urban royalists, known as the so-called yellow shirts, and Thaksin and his rural support base, the red shirts.

Abhisit led Thailand from 2008 to 2011 and has been critical of Thaksin. The Democrat Party’s traditional strongholds remain in Bangkok and much of southern Thailand, where Thaksin-aligned parties are less popular.

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