(Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s parliament was dissolved on Monday ahead of elections slated for May as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha seeks to extend nearly a decade of his military-backed rule.  

The order dissolving the House of Representatives was endorsed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn and published in the Royal Gazette, just three days before the lower house was due to complete its four-year term. The disbanding kicked off the countdown for the next general election that must be held between 45 to 60 days. 

Under the rules, the Election Commission must confirm the date of the election in a separate notification within five days, although it has initially penciled in polling for May 7. More than 52 million voters will elect 500 members to the lower house in a two-ballot system that will see 100 seats being alloted based on the proportion of votes that each party receives.     

The dissolution grants the 68-year-old prime minister more time to campaign and recruit members to run for his new party. Allowing the lower house to complete its term would have barred some politicians who switched parties in recent weeks from contesting in the elections. 

Prayuth, whose cabinet last week approved a raft of measures including a multi-billion spending plan and cash handouts to woo voters, is grappling with voter discontent arising from living costs and an uneven economic recovery. 

A pre-poll survey published on Sunday showed Prayuth falling to the third position in the ranking of preferred prime minister candidates, as opposition Pheu Thai Party’s Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, widened her lead as the voters’ top choice. 

Still, Prayuth’s United Thai Nation Party, which was set up only in 2021 to back him as a prime minister candidate, has steadily gained in popularity since he parted ways with the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, a quarterly survey by the National Institute of Development Administration showed. 

Pheu Thai, which is bidding to win more than 300 seats, bagged 49.8% approval rating among voters in the latest survey, followed by liberal Move Forward party at 17.4%. Prayuth’s United Thai Nation had the backing of 11.8% of respondents, up from 7% at the end of December. 

Though pre-election surveys project opposition parties holding an edge over the ruling coalition, the rules are stacked in favor of military-backed groups. That’s because the 2017 constitution gives the 250-member Senate, comprising mostly of establishment allies, the power to vote in the next prime minister until early 2024. 

Prayuth thanked coalition parties earlier on Monday and said he will seek another term. But the premier declined to confirm if he would also run for a seat in parliament. 

From Monday, Prayuth’s cabinet will step into a caretaker capacity until the new one is sworn in, which is expected to be in early August, government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri has said. 

While the preliminary outcome will be available on the same night of vote, official results may take about two months and will likely be notified sometime in early July, according to Anucha. 

(Updates with details throughout.)

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