BATTLE FOR BANGKOK
With voters heading to the polls tomorrow to elect a new city governor, a close race is all but guaranteed with the Pheu Thai Party and its arch-rival the Democrats both confident of victory.
Pheu Thai candidate Pongsapat Pongcharoen is flanked by market vendors while campaigning for votes at Ban Mo community and areas around Wat Rajabopit before paying respect to the Chao Phor Sua Shrine Friday morning. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)
Despite opinion polls putting Pheu Thai candidate Pol Gen Pongsapat Pongcharoen ahead, there is still no clear favourite to secure the city's top job.
The Democrats and Pheu Thai have been forced to work hard to canvass votes, and both will be feeling nervous when the unofficial results are announced tomorrow night.
For the Democrat Party, Bangkok is the last arena in the country where it can show off its administrative capabilities.
For Pheu Thai, which achieved a crushing victory in the last general elections, Bangkok is the final hurdle to nationwide political dominance.
Pheu Thai fields Pol Gen Pongsapat, a political newcomer. The candidate's affiliation with the ruling party is his strongest selling point, as he is guaranteed a close working relationship with the national government.
The Democrats have tried to use this against him, urging voters to prevent a national political monopoly for Pheu Thai. They have promoted their candidate, former governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra, as an "honest friend" of residents.
Democrat-backed Bangkok governor candidate MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra waves to supporters while heading to the party’s last major campaign stage in Wong Wian Yai yesterday before election day Sunday. Pawat Laopaisarntaksin)
Political observers estimate that the Pheu Thai voter base in Bangkok, together with personal supporters of Pol Gen Pongsapat, comes to around 800,000. That of the Democrats, meanwhile, is about 900,000, they say. Support from their political ally, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), could push that number past 1 million.
However, some PAD voters are expected to splinter off and vote for independent candidate Pol Gen Sereepisuth Temeeyaves.
Some are also tipped to switch allegiance after becoming disillusioned with the party's decision to field MR Sukhumbhand as its candidate.
This could bring the Democrats' voter base to around 800,000, on par with Pheu Thai's.
With voter turnout for Bangkok governor elections usually hovering around 50-60%, "silent voters" could make the difference if they decide to come out and cast their ballots.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, deputy leader Apirak Kosayodhin and campaign strategist Ong-art Klampaibul have mobilised all party resources to campaign for votes.
They have assigned 160 MPs, including 23 MPs for Bangkok, together with 46 Bangkok councillors and 296 Bangkok district councillors to actively campaign for votes in all 50 districts of the capital over the past 40 days.
The politicians are well-known to most Bangkok residents and have played important roles in building up the popularity of MR Sukhumbhand.
Mr Ong-art, who is the party's election director, believes this familiarity will give his party the edge over Pheu Thai, whose MPs involved in the election campaign are mostly from other provinces.
The Democrat Party is upbeat about its chances, but Mr Abhisit can scarcely afford another embarrassing loss after the last general election.
The party has rolled out its heavyweights, with former deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban leading a campaign to remind voters of the violent 2010 anti-government protests led by pro-Pheu Thai red-shirt supporters.
The Pheu Thai Party has refused to be drawn by that tactic, and has simply turned a deaf ear to stories of violence during the protests.
Pheu Thai list-MP Kanawat Wasinsungworn, who is a deputy head of a campaign policy committee, said Democrat attacks on Pheu Thai would fail.
The Democrats had run a negative campaign because they know they will lose the election, he said.
Pheu Thai is trying hard to woo support in inner city districts, which have historically been safe areas for Democrats.
If the party can swing enough of those voters, support from outer districts like Sai Mai and Don Muang may be enough to carry it over the line.
About the author
Writer: Supoj Wancharoen and Aekarach Sattaburuth