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Thailand Voters Get To Vote For The First Time Since 2014 Coup

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A Thai officer checks a clock to commence voting at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019. Thailand's first general election since the military seized power in a 2014 coup has begun. VOA

Voters in Thailand were heading to the polls Sunday in the country’s first election since the military ousted an elected government in a 2014 coup.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief who led the coup, is hoping to extend his hold on power after engineering a new political system that aims to stifle the influence of big political parties not aligned with the military.

About 51 million Thais are eligible to vote. Leaders of political parties opposed to military rule have urged a high turnout as the only way to derail Prayuth’s plans.

The junta leader was among the first to vote in the Thai capital Bangkok, arriving in a Mercedes, after polling booths opened at 8 a.m.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha casts his vote at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019, during the nation's first general election since the military seized power in a 2014 coup.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha casts his vote at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019, during the nation’s first general election since the military seized power in a 2014 coup. VOA

Speaking to reporters after casting his ballot, Prayuth said, “I hope everyone helps each other by going to vote today as it’s everyone’s right.”

The election is the latest chapter in a nearly two-decade struggle between conservative forces including the military and the political machine of Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon who upended tradition-bound Thailand’s politics with a populist political revolution.

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup and now lives in exile abroad to avoid a prison term, but parties allied with him have won every election since 2001. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who led the government that was ousted in 2014, also fled the country after what supporters said was a politically motivated corruption prosecution.

Thailand’s powerful King Maha Vajiralongkorn issued a statement on the eve of the election that said the role of leaders is stop “bad people” from gaining power and causing chaos.

Invoking a speech by his father, the previous Thai king who died in 2016 after reigning for seven decades, Vajiralongkorn said not all citizens can be transformed into good people so leaders must be given support in ruling to create a peaceful nation.

He urged government officials, soldiers and civil servants to look after national security.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of Future Forward Party, poses as he casts his vote during general election at a polling station in Bangkok, March 24, 2019.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of Future Forward Party, poses as he casts his vote during general election at a polling station in Bangkok, March 24, 2019. VOA

It was the monarch’s second notable intervention in politics recently. Last month, he demanded his sister Princess Ubolratana Mahidol withdraw as a prime ministerial candidate for a small Thaksin-allied party within 24 hours of her announcement.

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One of the first people to vote, 92-year-old Prabha Svarachorn, echoed the royal statement.

“I come to vote whenever there is an election,” she said. “I think it’s our duty to vote for good people. I would like people to come to vote.” (VOA)

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Albanians Call PM Edi Rama to Step Down to Pave Way for Early Elections

Waving posters and releasing paper lanterns marked “Quit,” some in the crowd of several thousand threw a dozen paint bombs at Rama’s office

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Albania's opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha speaks during an anti-government protest in front of the Parliament in Tirana, Albania, May 25, 2019. VOA

Albanian opposition supporters took to the streets again Saturday in a mostly peaceful protest, the sixth national one in three months, calling on Prime Minister Edi Rama to step down to pave the way for early elections.

Waving posters and releasing paper lanterns marked “Quit,” some in the crowd of several thousand threw a dozen paint bombs at Rama’s office. Some also hurled firecrackers at riot police near the parliament building. But there was less unrest than in the last protest two weeks ago, when some demonstrators hurled petrol bombs, firecrackers and paint at the government building and parliament.

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Albanians call Prime Minister Edi Rama to step down to pave the way for early elections. Wikimedia Commons

Rejecting allegations of fraud at the 2017 elections that gave his Socialist Party victory and him a second term in office, Rama told opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha he would not resign and urged him in a public letter to settle the crisis with talks.

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“He is asking me, asking us to capitulate? Answer to him!” Basha told the crowd, who chanted back in unison: “Rama quit.” “Pave the way to the political solution,” Basha added.

Hours before the rally, the EU delegation, its member states’ embassies and the United States embassy had urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully. “We call on all sides to build upon the existing offer for a dialogue, with the view to finding a way out of the current political situation as a matter of urgency,” the EU office said. (VOA)