Your Monday Briefing: Thailand Votes for Change

Thai voters overwhelmingly sought to end nearly a decade of military rule, casting ballots in favor of two opposition parties that have pledged to curtail the power of two powerful conservative institutions: the military and the monarchy.

With 97 percent of the votes counted as of early this morning, the progressive Move Forward Party was neck and neck with the populist Pheu Thai Party. Move Forward had won 151 seats to Pheu Thai’s 141 in the 500-seat House of Representatives.

“We can frame this election as a referendum on traditional power centers in Thai politics,” Napon Jatusripitak, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said. “People want change, and not just a change of government. They want structural reform.”

What is also clear is that the results are a humbling blow for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who took power in a coup in 2014.

Move Forward: The party has targeted mandatory military conscription and seeks to amend a law that criminalizes criticizing the royal family. It has made stunning strides, capturing young urban voters, and voters in the capital Bangkok.

Pheu Thai: The party was founded by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is still fondly remembered as a champion for the poor after his ousting in a coup in 2006 amid accusations of corruption. Thaksin’s daughter was the leading choice for prime minister, according to polls.

What’s next: Because both Pheu Thai and Move Forward do not have enough seats to form a majority, they will need to negotiate with other parties to establish a coalition. But under the rules of the Thai system, written by the military after the coup, the junta would still play kingmaker. A decision about who will lead could take weeks or even months.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was facing the fiercest political challenge to his 20 years in power as Turkish voters went to the polls yesterday. The outcome could reshape the domestic and foreign policies of Turkey.

The results are still coming in, but the state-run news agency reported that initial results showed Erdogan ahead. Opposition leaders dismissed those figures, and Erdogan’s top challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, wrote on Twitter, “We are leading.”

If no candidate secures a majority, the two front-runners would go to a runoff on May 28. Follow our live coverage.

Background: The vote was, in many ways, a referendum on Erdogan’s two decades as Turkey’s dominant politician. He faced an extremely tight race, largely because of anger at the state of the economy, which has suffered painful inflation since 2018.

The vote also came three months after earthquakes killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey, raising questions about whether Erdogan’s emphasis on construction produced buildings that were unsafe.

Election integrity: Turkey is neither a full-blown democracy nor a full-blown autocracy, and Erdogan has tilted the political playing field in his favor over the past two decades.

The war in Ukraine: A defeat for Erdogan would be a boon to the West and a loss for Russia. Erdogan has increased trade with Moscow, pursued closer ties with President Vladimir Putin and hampered NATO’s expansion.

A storm forecast to be the strongest to hit Myanmar in more than a decade made landfall near the Bangladesh border yesterday. The storm, Cyclone Mocha, has killed at least six people, but early reports suggest that it so far has not led to the humanitarian catastrophe that the authorities feared.

The area hit by the cyclone, in western Myanmar, is home to some of the world’s poorest people. The storm passed through Cox’s Bazar, a city in Bangladesh that is home to the world’s largest refugee encampment, though officials said they had not yet received reports of damage there.

The World Food Program said it was preparing for a large-scale emergency response. But some officials and expressed cautious hope that the region could be spared the storm’s worst possible damage as it weakened over land.

Many Asian American women are named after Connie Chung, a veteran U.S. television journalist. The writer Connie Wang explored the phenomenon, which she calls “Generation Connie.”

“We all have our own stories about how our families came to the United States, and why they chose the name they did,” she wrote. “But we’re also part of a larger story: about the patterns that form from specific immigration policies, and the ripple effects that one woman on TV prompted just by being there, doing her job.”

For centuries in India, the branding of witches was driven largely by superstition. A crop would fail, a well would run dry, or a family member would fall ill, and villagers would find someone — almost always a woman — to blame for a misfortune whose cause they did not understand.

Many Indian states have passed laws to eradicate witch hunting, but the practice persists in some states. From 2010 to 2021, more than 1,500 people were killed after accusations of witchcraft, according to government data.

One state has tried to stop the practice by deploying “witch-hunting prevention campaign teams,” which conduct street plays to raise awareness. But enforcement of anti-witch-hunting laws can be weak, and entrenched beliefs are difficult to change, activist say.

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