efe-epaBangkok

After almost five years of military rule, Thai citizens went to the polls on Sunday to vote in the first elections since current prime minister, general Prayuth Chan-ocha, came to power following a coup in 2014.

Seven million young Thais were eligible to vote for the first time, as a new generation of voters eagerly anticipate the return of democracy to the southeast Asian country.

"I feel very good, there is a good atmosphere. I want there to be more democracy," Pattarapol Kumlor, a 21-year-old management student, told EFE before voting at a polling station at the That Thong temple in Bangkok.

Pattarapol said he would vote for the emerging Anakot Mai (Future Forward) party, and its charismatic leader, billionaire entrepreneur Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who is hugely popular among younger voters.

The student said that other members of his family were set to vote for more conservative formations, such as the Democrat party - which enjoys sizeable support in the upper-middle class - and the pro-military Palang Pracharat, which has named Prayut as their prime ministerial candidate.

Kritsana, a 63-year-old street food vendor, said she was happy to be voting and hoped that the next government would work to improve the economy, complaining that sales had dropped in recent years.

Kritsana and her son Theeratat, 41, said they would vote for the "pro-democracy" parties, which mainly include Anakot Mai and Puea Thai - linked to the family of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - which are challenging the parties tied to the military (led by the Democratic Party and Palang Pracharat).

Chad, a 40-year-old stockbroker, said he hopes democracy returns to the country, criticizing the constitutional mechanism through which 250 members of the Senate appointed by the junta will elect the next prime minister along with 500 members of the lower house, whose seats are being voted for on Sunday.

While the economy had not performed too badly under the military, he said many projects, such as a hiigh speed rail service, had been delayed because there were no short term electoral gains for the government.

The Election Commission announced that preliminary results would start being released from 9 pm, four hours after the polling stations close.

In a message released on Saturday night, King Vajiralongkorn made an appeal to Thai citizens to vote for the "good people" to govern the country and prevent “bad” ones from causing creating problems.

"Maintaining national peace and order is not about making everyone good but supporting the good people to govern the country and preventing the bad people so that they can have no power nor cause problems," the King said.

No international observer mission has been authorized for monitoring the elections, but the European Union said it had accredited its diplomats to study the process for its own internal report.