A welcome return

A welcome return

FOR ON-LINE The City officials are launch campaign to encourage voters to cast ballots electing Bangkok governors and city councillors tomorrow. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard).
FOR ON-LINE The City officials are launch campaign to encourage voters to cast ballots electing Bangkok governors and city councillors tomorrow. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard).

In tomorrow's Bangkok gubernatorial election voters will choose from 31 candidates. They'll also select from among 381 city council candidates, 50 of whom eventually will pass laws, scrutinise budgets and ensure accountability of administrators.

Such elections have been part of the democratic process in Bangkok since 1975, when a law was passed enabling the capital's residents to pick their own governor, whereas other provinces had and still have provincial governors appointed by the Interior Ministry.

Sunday's vote marks a return of at least one element of democracy as Bangkok gubernatorial elections have been suspended since the May 2014 coup d'etat. For the past eight years, Bangkok's governor and city councillors have been appointed by the junta government.

During the period, much of the city's physical development has been in the form of state-endorsed projects initiated and implemented in a top-down manner. This resulted in state-endorsed schemes that under elected, local administration would have been heavily scrutinised. Instead they got quickly approved.

To be fair to BMA officials and others in charge of oversight, some of the projects are welcome, for instance canal clean-up and establishment of public green spaces.

However, an absence of public participation and scrutiny by democratically elected local administrators meant fast-track approval for some questionable state-endorsed projects. The eviction of residents in the culturally rich Pom Mahakan community in the city's old town for development of a green area comes to mind.

Thus Sunday's vote is the beginning of what will be a welcome return of public participation to City Hall.

But it might be easier said than done, given current political conditions.

Like it or not, the Bangkok gubernatorial election has become a battlefield of political tribalism -- among rival political camps and even between different political ideologies.

Indeed some parties and individual candidates have used the election to advance political ideologies or perhaps their own pet causes rather than deal with the kinds of problems that affect most Bangkokians.

On the plus side, candidates have made good use of online platforms including social media to get their messages across and to a wide range of voters. However this too has its own downside, not least voters getting drawn into a political game driven by clickbait and sensationalism.

Despite such increase in the amount of campaign information available and voters' easy access to it, what is furthermore surprising, if not worrying, that right up until the last few days before the election many voters had not made up their minds. Similarly worrying is that some voters will use this Sunday's poll to vote strategically or make a political statement.

Such wasted votes do not make a good case for the return of democracy to local politics.

Sunday's gubernatorial election should be about more than voters merely supporting their tribe. A healthy democracy requires attentive and well-informed voters who know what the problems are, have considered ways to address them and want to choose the best people to help solve them. These are voters not easily wooed by outlandish promises.

An election expresses not only the will but also the temperament of a people. Let us hope Bangkok voters show they are level-headed city dwellers. Let's hope they vote for able, honest and accountable candidates who think of public service as a way to help others, not as a way to help themselves.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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