A network of groups has pledged to support calls in Chiang Mai for the office of provincial governor to be an elected position, a position which is consistent with opinion polls in other regions that suggest most Thais also want elected governors.
A coalition of activists claiming to represent 60 local and national groups on the matter issued a joint statement yesterday, saying it backed those in Chiang Mai who wish to see their province follow the same democratic model as Bangkok.
The network includes the Provincial Administrative Organisation Association of Thailand, the Campaign for Democracy and the Provincial Self-Administration Network.
The coalition suggested that elections for the post would lead to a bona fide distribution of power which best answers the needs of residents.
It added the campaign was gaining momentum and looks set to spread beyond Chiang Mai, given the results of recent surveys and a general preference among communities for the right to steer policy by electing governors who can be held to account for their actions.
The system of appointed governors is part of a centralisation of administrative structure which has persisted for the 90 years that the country has been a constitutional monarchy.
This intense centralisation of power caters to the interest of select groups of people able influence the system, argue the groups. The "lopsided" distribution of resources and interests put the majority of people at a disadvantage, they claim.
The network is advocating a restructuring of administrative power through a gradual transfer away from the central authority of state agencies to the grassroots know-how of local candidates and officials.
The network pointed to a poll carried out by the National Institute of Development Administration, or Nida Poll, during the week which found a majority of people nationwide share that belief.
The survey was conducted on April 18-20 via telephone interviews with 1,320 people aged 18 and throughout the country.
Currently, the governors of every province except Bangkok are appointed by the Interior Ministry. Only the people of Bangkok, which was made a special administrative area called the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, elect their own governor.
Asked whether they want to be able to elect their governors, the answers were:
66.1% said "yes", very much;
18.6% said "yes", moderately;
10% said "no", definitely not;
3.7% said "no", not particularly;
1.3% were not interested.
Asked whether they thought elected governors would be differ from appointed governors in terms of their contribution to the development of the provinces, their answers were:
57.8% said "yes", very different;
27% said "yes", fairly different;
8.7% believed they would not make any difference;
5.9% believed they would make only a little difference;
0.5% were uncertain.