Explainer: What does Chadchart Sittipunt want?
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Explainer: What does Chadchart Sittipunt want?

The newly elected Bangkok governor has made reducing pollution and electric vehicle use key priorities

Mr Chadchart speaks to media and supporters at an election results event in Bangkok on May 22, 2022. (Photo: Nutthawat Wicheanbut)
Mr Chadchart speaks to media and supporters at an election results event in Bangkok on May 22, 2022. (Photo: Nutthawat Wicheanbut)

Following the first election in nine years, Bangkok welcomes 56-year-old Chadchart Sittipunt as its newest governor with a record-breaking landslide victory of 1.4 million votes.

How realistic are his promises to reduce pollution by transforming Bangkok to have an electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem? Analysts weigh in.

Q: Who is Chadchart?

Nicknamed "Trip", the incoming governor was born on May 24, 1966. He is the youngest son of Jitcharoong Sittipunt and Pol Gen Sa-nae Sittipunt, who served as a former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau. His twin brother, Dr Chanchai, is an associate professor and dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University.

Mr Chadchart, who ran as an independent candidate, said he believed he could function effectively as a governor without the backing of a political party. He stopped short of commenting on his votes, saying he would rather wait until the election result is official. Such a process could take up to a week.

He is US-educated with a PhD from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in civil and environmental engineering in 2011. For his master's degree, he studied structural engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while his bachelor's degree is in civil engineering from Chulalongkorn University, where he also served as a former assistant to the rector.

Q: Pheu Thai past

In terms of his political career, Mr Chadchart was the transport minister in the Pheu Thai Party before army chief Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha led a coup in May 2014.

The Pheu Thai Party during that time was headed by Yingluck Shinawatra.

Mr Chadchart stressed he was running for governor with no political affiliations on multiple occasions. However, many still see him as a proxy for the Pheu Thai Party and the decision by the party not to field a candidate led to continued scepticism on this point.

Q: Why was the governor's race significant?

In 2016, a couple of years after the coup, Gen Prayut appointed Pol Gen Aswin Kwanmuang as Bangkok governor.

Mr Chadchart's election is significant because it could bring about changes in Thailand's government in a future national election. Most Bangkok residents were not satisfied with the government's performance, prompting them to vote for candidates from camps who are opposed to the government.

Q: Implications for a national election

Phichai Ratnatilaka Na Bhuket, a political science lecturer at the National Institute of Development Administration, said Bangkok was a stronghold of the Democrat Party for a long time before being taken over by the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) in the 2019 general election.

"From now on, the Democrats and the PPRP may not be in a position to compete with the Pheu Thai Party and the Move Forward Party for House seats in Bangkok in the next general election," Mr Phichai said.

However, Gen Prayut dismissed the results of the Bangkok governor and councillor polls on Monday, saying they do not reflect his political popularity.

Q: What are the campaign's major promises for Bangkok?

There are 214 policies to transform Bangkok in Mr Chadchart's campaign pledges. They cover nine sectors: public safety, arts and creativity, environment, economics, transport, health, infrastructure and zoning, education, and management.

Some of the pressing policies focus on floods, traffic jams and reducing pollution. One interesting area where a public-private partnership can shine, especially as gas prices continue to soar, could be Mr Chadchart's promise to support the EV ecosystem.

To encourage EV use, he made charging stations and motorcycle battery switching stations top priorities. The proposed steps, which were outlined on his campaign website, are below.

"1. Allow privately-owned charging and battery-switching stations in government office areas.

2. Coordinate with the private sector to push for more charging and battery-switching stations.

3. Reconsider the building control ordinance to include mandatory charging and battery-switching stations for public use.

4. Pushing for EV retrofitting, using batteries to power a vehicle instead of engine parts, through public-private partnership and establish training programmes at polytechnic schools.

5. Allow the public to convert their combustion engines to electric at cost."

Pimchatr Ekkachan, senior economist at ttb bank, assessed the reality of these steps.

"I believe we will have more clarity on the first step because there are currently a handful of spots with free EV charging. As for the second step, companies from the private sector that partake in this are still limited to big players, such as PTT or Energy Absolute," she said.

"The other steps, especially swapping to electric batteries, will be hard to achieve in Thailand's EV market because most buyers still buy EV passenger cars as it suits their lifestyle more. This means they commute to work so a home charging station is more suitable.

"As for the retrofit, this would take some time because there are no internationally certified programmes yet and there are steps government agencies must take to register an EV, similar to CNG and NGV vehicles in the past. This goes beyond the city level to the national level."

Chris Wailes, managing director of Volvo Car Thailand, a manufacturer that has focused on electrification since 2020, told the Bangkok Post he welcomed any focus from the new governor on making charging infrastructure more widespread.

"Points 1 and 2 are both realistic and achievable, however for battery switching stations I assume that in terms of size these are targeted at motorcycles rather than cars," he said.

"I would welcome step 3, and I would go one step further and require all new condo units to have wiring prepared in parking zones to allow for charging stations to be installed. I believe many of the larger developers are already doing this."

However, Mr Wailes was more cautious about the fourth and fifth steps.

"While admirable, these are a little more challenging to achieve. These are technically achievable, but I would expect the cost of converting a traditional internal combustion engine car to electric would inhibit most people from doing it."

Q: How much money does the city have to bring these ideas to life?

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has run a yearly budget of at least 70 billion baht since 2016, along with a government subsidy of at least 20 billion baht. The subsidy is limited because it must be approved by parliament.

This year, the three agencies in Bangkok receiving the most money are the Department of Drainage and Sewerage (7 billion baht), the Department of Environment (6.8 billion baht) and the Department of Public Works (6.45 billion baht).

The question is how much the new governor can get done with these limited resources.

On election weekend, Prime Minister Prayut reminded the future governor to think about promises made and their practicality because a large sum of money, especially 20 billion baht of the City Hall's annual budget, still comes from the government.

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