Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks at the Government House in Bangkok
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks to members of media at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, March 20, 2023. Reuters

Thailand dissolved its parliament on Monday to clear the way for an election in May, a vote set to reignite a long-running power struggle between a military-backed establishment and a political movement that has dominated elections for two decades.

The Royal Gazette announced that King Maha Vajiralongkorn had endorsed a decree to dissolve parliament, ahead of an election that must be held 45 to 60 days after dissolution.

No election date has been announced, but two sources with knowledge of the matter earlier on Monday told Reuters the vote would take place on May 14.

"This is a return of political decision-making power to the people swiftly to continue democratic government with the King as head of state," said the decree published on Monday.

The election broadly pits the billionaire Shinawatra family and its business allies against parties and politicians close to their rivals among the royalist military and old money conservatives.

With populist policies aimed at Thailand's working classes, parties controlled by the Shinawatra family have won every election since 2001, including twice in landslides, but three of its governments were removed in military coups or by court rulings.

The May election will choose members of parliament, which together with the Senate will select a prime minister by the end of July, with a cabinet named by early August, according to a timeline provided by the government.

The main opposition Pheu Thai party's Paetongtarn Shinawatra is the frontrunner to be prime minister in opinion surveys, with her support jumping 10 points to 38.2% in a poll released at the weekend, more than twice the backing of her nearest contender.

Incumbent Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has been in power since his coup in 2014 against Paetongtarn's aunt, Yingluck Shinawatra, has been trailing in polls and was third in the latest survey by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA).

Prayuth will continue to lead as head of a caretaker government until the election.

"I'm glad I've built something good, generated revenue for the country, built industry. There has been a lot of investment," Prayuth, 68, told a news conference after the dissolution.

"You have to ask the people if they are satisfied or not ... I have done a lot in the many years that have passed."

The NIDA poll of 2,000 people also showed that 50% of respondents would choose candidates from Pheu Thai.

Paetongtarn on Friday said she was confident of winning by a landslide, with the aim of averting any political manoeuvring against her party, which has previously been removed from office by judicial rulings and military coups.

Pheu Thai Party unveils its candidates and announces their policies for the upcoming general election, in Bangkok
Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, lined up as one of the Pheu Thai Party's prime ministerial candidates, attends an event to unveil the party's candidates list and announce their policies for the upcoming general election, in Bangkok, Thailand, March 17, 2023. Reuters
Thailand dissolves parliament for election
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha poses with members of media, after Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn has endorsed a decree to dissolve parliament, at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, March 20, 2023. Reuters