After half a decade of military junta rule, up to 52 million Thais will head to the polls this weekend.
It is unclear how much political power the generals will concede. But, nearly 80 parties and more than 2,700 candidates are competing for votes in the polls.
Seven million youngsters will be voting for the first time.
The elections are also, on the face of things at least, the most LGBTI-inclusive yet.
Most political parties have included LGBTI policies, such as same-sex partnerships, in their manifestos.
What’s more, a trans woman has made history by running for prime minister.
‘This is the first time we’ve seen LGBT issues raised in party policies’ explained Kath Kangpiboon, transgender activist and University lecturer.
A lot of LGBTI people are also running for office, she said. ’Politics need an LGBT space’.
But, experts warn, politicians may only be giving lip service to LGBTI issues.
Same-sex unions and LGBTI education
Late last year, the junta cabinet drafted a same-sex unions bill and passed it to parliament.
While falling way short of marriage equality, it will afford same-sex couples some legal recognition. At the moment, no countries in Asia recognize same-sex unions.
It was widely seen as an effort by the generals to boost popularity ahead of elections. (They also promised to legalize cannabis).
The military’s biggest contender, the Future Forward Party (FFP) has also tried to woo voters with pro-LGBTI policies.
FFP has promised to amend the Civil Code to make marriage between persons rather than a man and a woman.
They’ve also proposed LGBTI-inclusive changes to the curriculum.
Thailand’s LGBTI party
Pauline Ngarmpring made history in these elections by running for Prime Minister.
She’s a member of the pro-LGBTI Mahachon Party.
Ngarmpring and the Mahachon Party have made headlines with their slogan ‘Diversity is Thailand’s Pride’.
The party is fielding more than 20 LGBTI candidates.
What’s more, they have the most progressive policies. They are proposing a law that would allow transgender Thais to change gender with ease.
But, the fringe party is not expected to gain many seats in elections.
Prior to Election Day, Ngarmpring has already had a positive impact on transgender awareness, Kangpiboon said.
’She is an inspiration to the community’ Kangpiboon told Gay Star News. ‘Her motivation and capacity show the ability of trans people. Society will learn to accept gender identity’.
Not a political issue
But, activists and political commentators warn, while politicians are courting the LGBTI vote, there is little dedication to rights-improving policies.
‘LGBT rights have never been properly discussed by political parties in Thailand’ Titipol Phakdeewanich, Dean of the Faculty of Political Science, Ubon Ratchathani University, told Gay Star News.
While political parties may mention LGBTI issues, he said, their policies lacked any depth.
‘We don’t see a strong determination to tackle LGBT rights issues’ Phakdeewanich said.
Kangpiboon said most political parties love to talk about LGBTI rights to get new voters.
But, she said, ‘I have not seen any promises on LGBT policy. I only see a space to talk about LGBT visibility’.