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Thailand election: Leading parties, personalities, key issues

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand, the second largest economy in Southeast Asia, will hold a general election on Sunday, pitting pro-democracy parties that are surging in popularity against those backed by military-linked conservatives.

Here are the main parties, developments and issues so far.

THE PARTIES

*Pheu Thai, a party backed by the billionaire Shinawatra family, has a big lead in opinion polls. Family patriarch and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra has announced plans to return from self-exile, causing a stir just days before the polls.

*In second place is the youth-led Move Forward party, which is gaining momentum three years after student-led protests rocked Thailand by challenging conservative norms.

*Incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is lagging behind the opposition in polls but electoral rules written by his former military junta mean he can't be counted out.

THE ISSUES

*The enduring animosity between the military-royalist establishment and opposition parties challenging the status quo, which has shaped Thai politics for decades, is playing out again.

*Thailand has one of the highest household debt to GDP ratios in Asia, a key challenge that political parties are promising to solve through wage increases or debt moratoriums.

*Thailand's decriminalisation of cannabis last year has become an election football with the opposition criticising the ruling coalition for rushing it while farmers suffer in limbo.

THE PERSONALITIES

*Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Thaksin's youngest daughter, is a prime ministerial candidate for Pheu Thai. The 36-year-old gave birth during the campaign but quickly went back to the hustings.

*More than a dozen activists from a student-led protest movement are taking their once-taboo cause from the streets to the ballot box as candidates, including for Move Forward.

*Thailand's health minister who championed the legalisation of cannabis is hoping to gain more clout after the elections, with expectations he could emerge as a key power broker.

CONTEXT STORIES

*EXPLAINER-What you need to know about Thailand's election

*FACTBOX-Parties contesting Thailand's election

*FACTBOX-Who are the main contenders for Thailand's next leader?

*TIMELINE-A tumultuous two decades in Thailand's politics

*FACTBOX-Election promises of Thailand's major parties

(Compiled by Devjyot Ghoshal)