City governor poll offers us a glimmer of hope

City governor poll offers us a glimmer of hope

Following a long delay, the cabinet is expected to set the date for the Bangkok governor election for May 29, according to news reports. To say that it's long-awaited is an understatement.

The capital, home to 5.5 million people officially but probably twice that, has been adrift and rudderless without an elected governor for six years.

The last governor voted in -- whether his tenure was good or bad is another story altogether -- was MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, who was removed by order of then coup leader Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha in 2016.

MR Sukhumbhand was accused by the Office of the Auditor General of wrongdoing in diverting an emergency budget to fund a 39-million-baht New Year light show.

Invoking Section 44 of the interim constitution, Gen Prayut appointed Pol Gen Aswin Kwanmuang as the new governor who has since remained in the position.

Even though he has not made an official announcement, Pol Gen Aswin is expected to enter the race for the next Bangkok governor as well. His publicity materials and motto: "Bangkok has changed" (presumably for the better because of his governorship), have been seen in parts of the city.

But not many people seem to agree with the sentiment behind his motto that the city has improved under his six-year term. According to opinion polls, Pol Gen Aswin is not the favourite candidate to win the next election if he is to run.

Standing at the top of virtually every opinion poll is the former Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt in Yingluck Shinawatra's government, running as an independent.

The latest survey by the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida) last week revealed that Mr Chadchart, who holds a Master's in Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was found to have a 38% approval rate.

The next favourite candidate in the eyes of voters is Pol Gen Aswin at 11.7%.

The Democrat Party's candidate Suchatvee Suwansawat, who energised the scene when he unveiled his candidacy in December, has fallen down to fourth with 8.6% approval.

Mr Suchatvee, who is often compared to Mr Chadchart because he also holds a PhD in engineering from MIT, has been surpassed by Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, the former outspoken representative from the Move Forward Party who left his seat in parliament to strengthen his party's popularity in Bangkok.

So far, it looks like the gubernatorial election will be a contest among these four candidates, plus another yet to be named candidate from the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP). The pressure thus falls heavily on the ruling party.

First, the chance that it will find a candidate with the potential to beat Mr Chadchart at this point appears slim.

Earlier, Pathum Thani governor Narongsak Osottanakorn who became well-known after participating in the rescue of 13 young footballers trapped in a flooded cave in Chiang Rai declined the party's ticket to take part in the city poll.

A few names have been floated about after that including that of Muang Thai Insurance's CEO Nualphan Lamsam. Ms Nualphan, also known as Madame Pang for her role as manager of the national football team, has so far said she is not interested in politics.

Second, even though chances are slim that the PPRP will be able to recruit a candidate with the potential to beat Mr Chadchart, it cannot just forego the governor poll altogether or field someone with less gravitas than the existing front candidates.

At this stage, a win by Mr Chadchart, if not a landslide, could be argued to be a foregone conclusion.

Personal character and charisma will also certainly play more of a role than the PPRP's reputation in the governor's election.

Still, how each party fares in the next gubernatorial election will inevitably be seen as an indicator of its chance should a general election be called.

With only a few months away, the PPRP needs to find someone who will possibly lose out to Mr Chadchart but who at the same time will not make the party look that bad or lose so much face. The question is though, who that will be?

Approaching Pol Gen Aswin to carry its banner may be an ideal option for the PPRP at this point. Will the option be a win-win for both parties?

May looks set to be an interesting month.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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