Thailand voters went to the polls Sunday in the first national elections since 2007. Authorities say they deployed some 180,000 police across the country to secure polling stations and voting proceeded smoothly. Early exit polls indicate the opposition Pheu Thai Party is ahead of the Democrats in winning the most seats in the 500 member parliament. Voters in the capital say they hope a new parliament will help end the deep political divisions and conflicts in Thai society in recent years.
Polling stations across Thailand were marked by a steady stream of voters Sunday as election officials expected turnout to exceed 70 percent of the more than 45 million eligible voters.
The election comes after four years of political turbulence and marks a further test for Thailand’s often fragile democracy.
In Bangkok, voting was steady at a polling booth near the city’s Democracy Monument.
Wisut, a businessman, says people have an opportunity to help Thailand overcome social divisions that have arisen in recent years.
"We choose a party which political party can make Thailand better," Wisut said. "Make the people more alert that they have the power to decide which way or which direction Thailand can go in the future."
Others were more skeptical about all of the politicians in the running. A lecturer at Bangkok’s Mahidol University said he was voting for Chuvit Kamolvisit, a former massage parlor owner who made the fight against corruption a centerpiece of his colorful campaign.
“Everybody wants him to be in parliament, nobody wants him to be in power," he said. "People are saying, 'I am sick and tired of the current political families.' If it is not the same people, then they are the brothers or sisters or cousins of the same people.”
There has been widespread concern that whichever party wins, there will be a repeat of violent clashes that gripped Bangkok last year.
One lady at a voting booth near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument says all political players must accept the voters’ choice.
“Yes very much; it’s important for the country - the future of the country. We have to accept the people’s choice.,” she said.
On the other side of town, amid the port area of Klong Toey, police and interior ministry officials ensured security and helped voters cast their ballot.
One Pheu Thai voter remained confident the party would win a majority of seats in the 500 seat house of parliament.
But another voter, Khun Im, says she hopes the next prime minister will help Thailand recover from its political problems in recent years.
She says there will be no problem if the elected leaders looked to support the country and the Thai Royal Family.
At polling booths across Thailand’s capital many voters said that at a minimum they hope the election eases some of the political pressures that have built up over recent years.