It is not a do-or-die situation yet for the Democrat Party. But it is getting close to it. The race for Bangkok governor will either be a psychological boost or a blow.
Defeat in its key political stronghold will dampen the Democrats' morale. A win, however, will be sweet revenge over its rival Pheu Thai after Thailand's oldest party was unceremoniously routed in the last general election.
Democrat bigwigs have finally put behind them all internal conflicts about the party's candidate for governor and and decided to get serious about Sukhumbhand Paribatra's chances of being victorious. Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is in command of the gubernatorial election campaign.
Apirak Kosayodhin, a former governor, is a chief-of-staff and Ong-art Klampaibul is driving the campaign from a command centre set up last Friday. All, naturally, are backing MR Sukhumbhand going on to administer City Hall for another term.
Pheu Thai had been keeping its choice close to its chest, although it was harbouring the country's worst kept secret. Now it's official. This week it will introduce deputy police chief Pongsapat Pongcharoen as its candidate after internal fighting featuring a crusade by its Bangkok MPs to have a reluctant Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan go to the poll ended with an announcement yesterday that Pol Gen Pongsapat would in fact be the party's choice.
Forget all previous polls which showed MR Sukhumbhand ahead of possible rivals because there are many silent voters out there who have remained undecided until now. But that is not really a problem for the party. Pheu Thai is taking the stand that its campaign this time has nothing to lose. If the self-publicising police general cannot hit the finish line ahead of MR Sukhumbhand, he can always pick up the threads at the Office of the Narcotics Control Board where he has been the main man until now.
Deep inside, though, the party believes that this is its best chance to beat the Democrats on their own turf _ partly because of its candidate and partly because of the less-than-stellar image of MR Sukhumbhand.
Pheu Thai had its own rift to heal after its Bangkok MPs were upset about Thaksin Shinawatra's favoured choice of candidate _ Pol Gen Pongsapat _ instead of their faction leader, Khunying Sudarat. At the end of the day, however, they will have to go for the candidate picked by the former prime minister.
The Democrats' closest competitor this time is probably not Pol Gen Pongsapat. Its main enemy this time is itself.
When campaigning gets under way, it will have to convince supporters who favour the party but are hesitant about MR Sukhumbhand, to commit to the party's candidate.
That ambivalence is what led to the long delay in the party's decision to endorse MR Sukhumbhand, even though he had declared himself ready weeks ago.
He has declared what he will do if he is elected to sit in City Hall for another term, and is confident of his popularity in the poll.
One hitch is that the recently resigned governor ended his first term on a discordant note instead of a favourable impression. He is remembered for the controversial construction of the Bangkok Futsal Arena in Nong Chok which was not completed in time for November's Futsal World Cup. This issue alone will be a significant point to attack when the campaigning gets serious.
Last election in 2009, MR Sukhumbhand cruised to victory with more than 900,000 votes, 300,000 more than his closest competitor, Pheu Thai's Yuranan Pamornmontri.
Part of that success came from riding on the popularity of Mr Apirak, who quit as governor to fight the fire boat and truck charges filed against him by the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
The vote of sympathy for the Democrats helped carry him to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
The election this year will prove whether he can confidently run the capital if supporters of the Democrats mark his name on the ballot sheet.
MR Sukhumbhand could draw an unexpected vote of sympathy again this time from voters if they detect Pheu Thai rates its own chances too highly.
In this regard, MR Sukhumbhand would be happy to hear more from Pheu Thai deputy spokesman Jirayu Huangsap, who has boasted about Pheu Thai's chances of success, claiming that even if it sent a power pole to stand in the election, it was likely to win.
The more Pheu Thai boasts in such an arrogant fashion, the more votes of sympathy are likely to go to the Democrats.
Saritdet Marukatat is Digital Media News Editor, Bangkok Post
About the author
- Writer: Saritdet Marukatat
Position: Opinion-Editorial Pages Editor