Thailand held a general election on Sunday, July 3, its second since a 2006 military coup unseated the elected government of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a population of about 66 million, but its democracy has been plagued by corruption and repeated interference by the military.
WHAT'S AT STAKE: 500 seats in the lower house of parliament. In a two-tier system of voting, 375 legislators will be elected by constituency by some 47 million eligible voters. The remaining 125 "party-list" candidates will be chosen according to the proportion of votes each party receives nationwide on a separate ballot.
THE CONTESTANTS: Some 42 political parties are fielding 3,832 candidates. Only two parties have realistic expectations of capturing a large share of seats: the governing Democrats and the opposition Pheu Thai Party. If neither captures an outright majority _ as seems likely _ then smaller established parties will hold the balance of power, and bargain hard for significant Cabinet posts.
MAIN PLAYERS: Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is the leader of the Democrat Party. It is the country's oldest party, but has not placed first in an election since 1992. Pheu Thai represents the third iteration of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai Party after electoral law violations saw its two predecessors disbanded by the courts. Thaksin is in self-imposed exile in Dubai, while his youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, heads the Pheu Thai Party. She is widely believed to be Thaksin's proxy.
A Pheu Thai party victory bringing Thaksin's loyalists to power could prompt the army to stage another coup, especially if the new government moves to grant Thaksin amnesty to pave the way for his return. If the Democrats prevail, aggressive protests by Thaksin's supporters causing unrest could equally serve as an excuse for military intervention.