'Sensational!' - Revelry follows Thai opposition Move Forward's lead in elections
By Devjyot Ghoshal and Kwang Jiraporn Kuhakan
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Law consultant Paramait Vithayaruksun arrived to join celebrations at the headquarters of Thailand's Move Forward party late on Sunday, after a rolling vote count showed the opposition group taking the lead in what many are calling a historic election.
"I didn't imagine this day would come," said the 29-year-old, who joined the party two years ago and is slated to represent a Bangkok district in parliament.
Move Forward has shaken the political landscape, long dominated by military-backed parties or the opposition Pheu Thai party driven by the billionaire Shinawatra family.
According to preliminary results released by the election commission, Move Forward's lead in 113 of the 400 seats where members of parliament are directly elected has put it ahead of the 112 seats cornered by Pheu Thai, which has won five consecutive general elections since 2001 but either been forced out of power or disqualified each time.
It may also manage to control most of Bangkok's 33 parliamentary districts, the sprawling capital dominated by the conservative establishment in past national elections.
Move Forward's charismatic prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat was jubilant.
"Sensational!" he said about how he felt, surrounded by security guards and a gaggle of cameras.
"What we promised the public, we will be consistent after the election."
A chunk of Move Forward's support has come from young voters, including 3.3 million eligible to vote for the first time.
Although the party did not officially participate in the 2020 youth protests that challenged the military-backed government and the monarchy, some activists from that movement ran as Move Forward candidates in Sunday's election and many are party workers.
The party's platform includes amending a criminal law that makes insulting the king punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
But it was Move Forward's economic policies, which include improving the minimum wage system, that convinced Pornparhoo Maiwong, 26, to vote for the party.
"I feel like my vote has improved the country," she said, dressed in orange, Move Forward's colour, at party headquarters.
At a stall serving green curry and stir-fried beef to the party faithful, Varin Srisuwan said Move Forward deserved the victory.
"They worked really hard," said the 68-year-old. "But they'll have to work even harder now because they have to serve the people who voted for them."
Into the small hours of Monday, dozens of supporters remained at the headquarters, still celebrating. The faint smell of marijuana wafted in the air.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Kwang Jiraporn Kuhakan; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Grant McCool)