With the number of candidates for Bangkok governor standing at a whopping 24 as of last week, you can't say voters in the capital lack for choices in the March 3 poll. But then again, trying to find substantive differences in the candidates is another matter, because for the most part they make promises that are seldom if ever backed up by analyses of their feasibility and cost.
Out of the two dozen-plus candidates, only eight are considered "serious", and probably only two have a realistic chance of assuming the office - Democrat-backed incumbent Sukhumbhand Paribatra and Pheu Thai-backed Pongsapat Pongcharoen. But neither of the front-runners has a commanding lead. According to the latest survey by Bangkok University, Mr Pongsapat is ahead of MR Sukhumbhand by a scant 23.9% to 23.6%, and with 42.1% of respondents saying they hadn't yet made up their minds who to vote for, anything could happen. This important point should be enough to make the eight major contenders sharpen their game in the next four weeks and be prepared to explain their positions more clearly and how they would go about implementing them.
According to the survey, the two most urgent areas for the new governor to address are the rising cost of living and traffic congestion. The first of these is probably almost completely out of the hands of any city governor, but there's always hope for the latter if the right policies are implemented, and this, of course, means a well thought out and comprehensive mass transit system.
In line with solving the city's traffic woes, just about all of the candidates have come out in favour of extending the city's electric train lines, and MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra has promised to elaborate on specific plans to do so this week. It will be interesting to see how much detail he goes into and whether his plans are backed by extensive research. As the acting governor for the last four years, he should have the edge over his competitors here. He has also proposed building underpasses at 100 railway crossings and intersections and linking all modes of public transit.
Meanwhile, Mr Pongsapat has said that this week he will also make public his plans to smooth the flow of traffic in the city. Previously he has proposed free rides on all non-air-conditioned public buses and free rides on passenger boats on Khlong Saen Saep.
According to one report, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra wants Mr Pongsapat to come up with more realistic campaign policies and to emphasise his advantage of being able to cooperate smoothly with the government. This is, of course, a reference to the well publicised feud that arose between MR Sukhumbhand and the Pheu Thai government on how to handle the devastating floods of late 2011. This situation aggravated the crisis and hurt the country's image in the eyes of the world.
The eight major candidates were on hand to give brief sketches of their campaign policies at Silpakorn University on Friday, and in their defence there were some interesting ideas offered, though again without much elaboration. Mr Pongsapat proposed constructing pavements on the banks of the Chao Phraya from Rama VIII Bridge to Sathon Bridge, which would undoubtedly allow the city to capitalise on its most outstanding natural feature.
Probably the most interesting presentation was from independent candidate Kosit Suvinijjit, who along with several other candidates emphasised developing Rattanakosin Island as a tourist centre. He promoted luk thung music venues in each of the 50 districts of Bangkok and promised to ensure that at least 1% of the workforce in each district would be made up of disabled people.
On a grander scale, he said that he would revitalise Bangkok's canals to return the old comparison of the city as the "Venice of the East". Presumably in conjunction with this project, he would implement the construction of small wastewater treatment facilities for each community. While these proposals have somewhat of a "pie in the sky" aspect, they are not as unrealistic as some may believe. It wouldn't be cheap, but it might be just the thing to put the city on a more progressive track. If Mr Kosit can fill in some details in the next few weeks he might be worth another look from the electorate.