In the unlikely event you hadn't noticed, electioneering for a new Bangkok governor is with us again, always a time of festivity, buffoonery and unscheduled mirth. The candidates are as usual full of promises, but a little bit thin on the policy side. Indeed for the next month we are going to hear a lot more promises_ some silly, some daft and some utterly absurd. And be prepared for daily photos of grinning candidates clutching terrified babies, cooking noodles and kissing grandmas.
There's no lack of people who think they can do the job - 18 candidates showed up for registration on the first morning alone, although only two have got a hope of winning. One prospective governor announced he would build toilets at all 4,900 Bangkok bus stops. Just imagine that. For a start, the toilets would get in the way of the motorcyclists and vendors. While Bangkok could certainly do with more public toilets, 4,900 does seem a bit over the top, even for us ancient citizens who tend to get caught short every now and again.
One candidate announced, with a commendably straight face, ''I can solve all Bangkok's problems.'' He definitely sounds like the man for the job. Let's pick him now and forget about the election.
The buck stops here
The candidates have to be a bit careful about what promises they make. At an election in the 1990s, one campaigner vowed that he would ensure that Bangkok would return to being the ''Venice of the East''. It almost came true. A couple of weeks later the entire city was submerged by floods and the electorate told the candidate in no uncertain terms what he could do with his ''Venice'', which had become the ''City of Soggy Socks''.
The election inevitably raises the question of why on Earth anyone would want to be governor of Bangkok in the first place. It must be a huge headache waking up every morning knowing you are responsible for about 10 million citizens who have all got something to complain about. Most of us have enough problems looking after ourselves, let alone the entire populace. Whatever goes wrong in the city, it's the governor's fault. Even if it rains, it's the governor's fault.
For the long-suffering Bangkok electorate, one can only suggest they ponder the following words of wisdom from the late American financier Bernard Baruch: ''Vote for the person who promises least - they will be the least disappointing.''
Keeping it simple
When I was first in Bangkok, things were much more straightforward as there was no election for governor, or ''mayor'' as the post was called at that time. Up until 1985, the gentlemen - sorry ladies, it was always gentlemen in those days - were simply appointed.
Of course, this meant there were no electioneering theatrics. You just woke up one morning, picked up the newspaper and read a headline such as ''Somsak New Governor'' and that was it, all over. And no tacky promises of nirvana to live up to.
Admittedly it wasn't very democratic and was less entertaining than the present system, but it was definitely a lot simpler.
Man of the people
I was pleased to see that Smith Smittinand, or ''Mr Samith'' as he is popularly known, is once again in the fray and still sprightly at the age of 79. He seems to have been contesting the city elections ever since they were invented, alas not with much success.
Mr Smith, who is number five, is perhaps best known for his unique solution to Bangkok's gridlock - having traffic lights green the whole time. It's pretty hard to argue with logic like that and there are a lot of motorists who would agree with him.
Back in 1986, Mr Smith gallantly fought for election under the splendid party name - Klum Pak Ma Pue Prachathipathai - The Barking for Democracy Party.
He outdid himself in 1996, by showing up at the registration ceremony wearing a paper bag over his head.
Mr Smith is refreshingly honest. During a debate for the 1986 election he admitted the only way he could win was if all the other candidates withdrew. Nobody argued with him about that. In fact he underestimated his appeal and came in a respectable seventh out of 10 candidates.
There is always a lot of superstition concerning the number each candidate is allocated. In the 2004 election, the Massage Man - now an MP - was so obsessed at getting the number five, that on the day of registration he left home at 5.55am and arrived in a car with number 55 license plates. Alas, he was assigned No 15, although it was pointed out that he could look on that as a bonus - three fives.
He didn't win, but certainly made it a lively campaign.
He also had an eye-catching poster featuring him wielding an axe in a symbolic gesture to destroy corruption. Posters for the current campaign, which will be staring down at you for the next month, seem less inventive. The candidates appear to have two distinct postures - a kind of earnest look, oozing sincerity or the classic Thai grin. The posters are intended to convey the image of someone who is completely and utterly trustworthy, which might prompt an element of mirth in some quarters.
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About the author
- Writer: Roger Crutchley