BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's main political parties held their final major rallies ahead of Sunday's general election, urging their supporters on and highlighting policies they hope will bring them victory.
The polls follow five years of military rule that began with a coup during a long-running battle for power between supporters and opponents of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by an earlier coup in 2006.
The main parties' prime ministerial candidates spoke at rallies in stadiums in Bangkok, the capital. They included Prayuth Chan-ocha, who heads the current military regime, and Sudarat Keyuraphan, representing Thaksin's political machine, the army's main antagonist.
The most powerful anti-Thaksin party is Palang Pracharath, seen as a proxy for the military. Prayuth, Its candidate, led the 2014 coup that ousted a government led by Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.
Prayuth served as junta chief and prime minister in a regime that cracked down on dissent and issued a new constitution designed to weaken the political power of Thaksin and his allies.
Prayuth initially denied any political ambition, but has transformed himself in the past year into a political figure. His official trips around the country increasingly resembled campaigning, and he finally dispensed with all pretext by appearing at Friday's party rally, bringing cheers from thousands of partisans.
Taking to the stage in a classic politician's garb of a white button-down shirt with rolled-up sleeves, he pumped his fist into the air.
"I thank you for your support and I will repay more than you have given me. I will give my life and my heart. I will die for my country, the country that allows me to have been born, to live and work," he said. "I will protect this country for our future generations. Who will join me?"
The military said when it took power that it was ending the political unrest that had periodically turned violent and disrupted daily life and development. The claim has been a major selling point for Prayuth.
"If you vote for him, the country will remain peaceful," said one of his fans, Kularb Panudee. "There won't be any mobs because he can handle them."
The main pro-Thaksin party, Pheu Thai, held its rally at an indoor stadium in another part of Bangkok. It was the vehicle that brought Thaksin's sister to power in 2011.
The party's standard-bearer this year is Sudarat, who served in several Cabinet posts under Thaksin.
She insisted the party would fight to overcome constitutional hurdles erected against it by Prayuth's regime.
"In 2014, they took power with the barrel of a gun, by a coup," she said. "In 2019, they are trying to take away the people's power again through crooked regulations under the constitution."
Concerns about a slowing economy under Prayuth's rule have been an issue in the campaign, and she told the crowd, "Every time we come back, the economy improves, right?"
"Pheu Thai is here because the people are here with us," she declared.
A supporter, 48-year-old day laborer Puvanai Jamkrajang, said he has "always voted for Pheu Thai because they deliver results."
"I hope for democracy, whoever comes into power, I hope they get to remain in power, whoever it is," he said. "Without democracy, there are no checks and balances."