The trend is clear. The race for Bangkok's new governor is now tilted clearly in favour of Pol Gen Pongsapat Pongcharoen. His popularity is consistently increasing, as attested by several polls.
The Democrat Party has won Bangkok's governor election three consecutive times now. The number of Bangkok MPs from the Democrat Party is double that of the Pheu Thai Party. But if the polls are accurate, Democrat domination of Bangkok may soon become history. According to an Abac poll, Pol Gen Pongsapat is now leading Democrat nominee Sukhumbhand Paribatra by nearly 10%.
Even people like Suriyasai Katasila from the Green Politics group, who has always opposed the Thaksin Shinawatra camp, admit that the Democrat Party has put itself at a disadvantage by fielding the same old candidate.
He believes there is only a slim chance that MR Sukhumbhand will win this time due to the lack of outstanding achievements during his previous tenure.
In an effort to downplay the appeal of Pol Gen Pongsapat, who is good-looking, photogenic and media-savvy, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said voters should look at the candidates' characters, not the image they project. MR Sukhumbhand, he said, is true to himself.
If Mr Abhisit is worried, he is not showing it. Pol Gen Sereepisut Temiyavej's attitude is another matter.
He refuses to accept polls showing he is far behind the two leading candidates. He also says the Pheu Thai government can influence the police force and other state agencies to mobilise support for their candidate.
Mr Abhisit, on the other hand, believes the real threat is Pheu Thai's influence over several news media organisations which feed their readers positive news about Mr Pongsapat and attack MR Sukhumbhand. He says if Mr Pongsapat was a Democrat, he would not have been doing as well.
The political situation in the city has changed. Pheu Thai may not have as solid a support base as the Democrats in Bangkok, but Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's popularity, arising from her refusal to engage in political feuds, has significantly boosted public support for Pol Gen Pongsapat.
But never underestimate the Democrats, who have swept the past three Bangkok elections, including the polls for district representatives and the Bangkok council. The party is still optimistic it can come up with a strategy to help MR Sukhumbhand win Bangkok again.
"I was confident right from the start that it would be a very close race. We won't see the winner leaving others far behind as we did before," said Mr Abhisit.
Meanwhile, Ong-art Klampaibul , party list MP and the director of the Democrats' governor campaign, is also confident that MR Sukhumbhand does not trail as badly as the polls predict.
The Democrat, he said, has dispatched former Bangkok governor Apirak Kosayothin and all of the Democrats' Bangkok MPs to canvass voters, and they have found that Bangkok's support for the Democrats remains strong.
To win this election, the Democrats need to convince undecided voters and those who are considering voting for independent candidates to cast their votes for MR Sukhumbhand instead. The last stretch of the race now will be crucial in determining whether the party can win Bangkok again.
"Since we have decided to field the last Bangkok governor once again, we must accept that there are both people who like and dislike him since he has been in office for the past four years. The new candidates have done nothing yet, so they do not have to face the same criticisms," Mr Ong-art said.
"Our task is to convince the voters that it's better for Bangkok to vote Democrat."
The Democrats also have good reason not to trust the polls. In the 2011 general election, exit polls predicted the Democrats would get only five seats and Pheu Thai would get 28 in the city. But once the results were in, the Democrats won 23 seats while Pheu Thai bagged 10.
Even Korkaew Pikulthong, a Pheu Thai party list MP, has expressed caution against relying on polls as he remembers vividly how inaccurate they can be.
So from now until March 3, we can expect to see the election campaigns getting fiercer by the day, with the two leading political parties going at full steam to win the Bangkok race.
Nattaya Chetchotiros is Assistant News Editor, Bangkok Post.
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- Writer: Nattaya Chetchotiros