Race for capital's hot seat ramps up

Race for capital's hot seat ramps up

In this file photo, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration launches a campaign to encourage residents to vote in the March 24 election in front of the BMA head office in Phra Nakhon district. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
In this file photo, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration launches a campaign to encourage residents to vote in the March 24 election in front of the BMA head office in Phra Nakhon district. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

After more than five years of dormancy under the military regime, the country's local administrative bodies will spring back to life, once again, now the country has switched back into democratic mode.

With the relevant legislature on local administrations and local elections having been passed, local politicians are looking forward to a chance to resume their duties after the elections. The military regime, which took power in 2014, decided to scrap all the local administration organisations across the country in a bid to nip certain political conflicts in the bud.

There will be elections for several levels of local administrative agencies, including provincial administrative organisations, tambon administrative organisations, as well as elections for special administrative positions and bodies like governor of Bangkok and mayor of Pattaya and city and district councils.

Among them, the most attention will be on the elections for governors in Bangkok and major provinces like Nakhon Ratcha-sima, Chiang Mai, Songkhla and Chon Buri. Curiosity is growing as to whether the "old champs" can maintain their grip on their political strongholds with the emergence of new political actors such as the military-leaning Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) and Future Forward Party (FFP).

In my opinion, from now on we will see a clash between conservatives and new politicians with progressive ideologies who have challenged the former archaic political traditions. Bangkok, in particular, will be a prime spot for such conflict, though it remains unclear how this new political climate will affect the way residents vote for governor.

In general, we should not forget that the elections for local administrative bodies do not necessarily share the same characteristics as those at a national level since local voters have their own specific reasons to pick local administrators.

In fact, what we will see in the Bangkok governor election is likely to be quite unique given that residents have, in the past, often picked candidates from the opposition bloc in order to counterbalance the strongest party that runs the national government.

Even though we still have no idea when the gubernatorial election will take place, the fight for the position will be fierce. The four major parties likely to join the contest are the PPRP as the party of government; the FFP, which won the popular vote in the capital; Pheu Thai, the party with the highest number of MP seats and the runner up in every gubernatorial poll; and the Democrats, the capital's traditional champions.

For the Democrats, even though the party has dominated Bangkok's governorship over the past 18 years, beating Thaksin Shina-watra's People's Power, which transformed to Pheu Thai, in four elections, their margin of victory narrowed significantly to less than 15% by the time of the last poll.

In 2004, the Democrats' Apirak Kosayodhin, then a novice politician, captured 911,441 votes, defeating Paveena Hongsakula, an independent candidate who had the support of Thai Rak Thai, who won 619,039 votes. In the fight for his second term in 2008, Mr Apirak won 991,018 votes, crushing Prapas Chongsa-nguan, the People's Power Party candidate. He later resigned in a show of political spirit after the National Anti-Corruption Commission indicted him over alleged graft in the procurement of fire engines for the city, though he was later proven innocent in the case.

The Democrats then fielded MR Sukhum-bhand Paribatra for the 2009 poll which saw the academic-turned-politician sweep 934,602 votes, leaving Yuranand Pamornmontri of Pheu Thai, who got 611,669 votes, out in the cold. MR Sukhumbhand then won a second term, with 1,256,349 votes, beating Pol Gen Pongspat Pongcharoen of Pheu Thai who came second with 1,077,899 votes.

In fact, the Democrats have also dominated Bangkok in past national elections, edging Thaksin's parties, for the past 10 years. It was not until the March 24 election that the country's oldest party experienced any kind of significant defeat when it failed to win any seats at all while the PPRP emerged as the big winner with 12 seats, while Pheu Thai and FFP tied with nine seats each. But the FFP came top in terms of the popular vote, with 800,642 votes compared with 790,301 for the PPRP.

Such data is crucial as it shows a strong possibility that the old champ may no longer keep its dominance. To put it bluntly, the next election will be a battlefield for the PPRP, FFP and perhaps Pheu Thai.

At the moment all the parties are wooing the most distinguished candidates to run under their banners. The PPRP had eyed Phayao governor Narongsak Osothanakorn, aka the "wild boar governor", who played a leading role in the rescue mission of the young footballers trapped in the Chiang Rai cave. However, Mr Narongsak turned down the PPRP's invitation and it is likely the party may now turn to incumbent governor Pol Gen Aswin Kwanmuang or his deputy Sakoltee Phattiyakul, who has been branded a "new gen" leader.

At the same time, Pheu Thai would like to field Chadchart Suttipunt, although there are reports that the former transport minister may prefer to run as an independent candidate in order to avoid the stigma of colour-coded political polarisation. The Democrats have their sights on former governor Mr Apirak and former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij. Some party elements even want to see Abhisit Vejjajiva, who led them in the election, join the race and win back dominance for the party. For the FFP, it is reported that it is flirting with TV personality ML Natthakorn Devakula as well as Suharit Siamwalla, both of whom have been former candidates.

It could be said the forthcoming election is a chance for the FFP and Pheu Thai. But what strategies should they pursue to win?

The FFP and Pheu Thai should know that, unlike in the recent election, they can no longer use anti-military vs pro-democracy discourse. Besides, the two parties will also have to temporarily struggle against each other to win the hearts of city voters.

In fact, there is a chance that city folk who are fed up with political polarisation may pick an independent candidate with a solid profile and experience. But if there are no such choices, chances are high that the parties in the opposition bloc will gain the upper hand.

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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