Rarely does a day pass without the emergence of some new poll revealing how candidates in the race for Bangkok governor are doing. The value of these opinion surveys is debatable given the relatively low sampling factor, the month still to go before the election and the astonishingly high proportion of respondents who claim to be "undecided". This figure is often as large as 48%.
Quality of life issues determine the outcome of most campaigns and this one will be no exception. Visiting a market and cooking stir-fried noodles for a few carefully chosen bystanders will make for a quickly-forgotten photo op. But brandishing a cabbage priced at 31 baht and berating vegetable vendors for charging so much will grab headlines and win public acclaim from those annoyed by unreasonable increases in the cost of living. Many of these will suspect profiteering in the wake of the minimum wage increase and think they have a champion. Experienced politicians know this.
This is the stage in the campaign when voters should begin to look at what some of the candidates for governor are doing, not just at what they are saying. Deserving of particular attention are those candidates who publicly vow to get rid of irritants plaguing the life of those living in the capital and then contradict themselves by sending out painfully noisy sound trucks to roam the streets and tell them so. They appear oblivious to the fact that noise pollution is endemic in Bangkok and getting worse. It has its roots in decades of selfish neglect, weak municipal ordinances and poor enforcement.
Going back to these roots and amending and strengthening noise mitigation measures to bring them into line with present-day needs may not be as glamorous as pledges to provide smart bus stops and futuristic monorails, but it is certainly necessary. The health of our capital comes before the interests of those inconsiderate and selfish people who exhaust our patience, exploit our tolerance and give us a perpetual headache.
It is within the power of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to regulate acceptable levels of noise yet none of the candidates has mentioned any plans to do so, or even enforce the inadequate measures already on the books. This is alarming given that noise is so intrusive. Surely they cannot be unaware of the amount of hearing damage caused by personal media players at high volume, motorcycles, power saws, building construction or demolition, jet aircraft and heavy traffic. Noise pollution has become such a disturbance to the human environment that it has become a real threat to the quality of life. Even our public parks, which used to be havens of tranquillity, have become infested by noisy loudspeakers for no good reason. If candidates are unaware or unconcerned about the dangers posed by pollution, then they have not done their homework.
They say they want Bangkok to become an international "super city" with a good quality of life, a clean rubbish-free environment with a smoother traffic flow and improved amenities. But do they realise the complexity of governing a mega-city of such enormous contrasts playing host to the very rich and the very poor? As the country's economic, political and cultural capital, Bangkok's sheer diversity and chaotic nature makes it extremely difficult to govern well, as history has shown.
How many of the candidates can genuinely meet such a challenge and then perform above and beyond expectations? Presumably that is the question that the 48% of "undecided" voters in this week's flurry of opinion polls are finding difficult to answer.