Surin makes surprise bid for city governor

Surin makes surprise bid for city governor

Interview: Ex-Asean chief says restoring international confidence vital

National, politician world-class diplomat - and now Surin Pitsuwan says he is ready to go local, and run for governor of Bangkok. (Bangkok Post file photo by Somchai Poomlard)
National, politician world-class diplomat - and now Surin Pitsuwan says he is ready to go local, and run for governor of Bangkok. (Bangkok Post file photo by Somchai Poomlard)

Surin Pitsuwan, a former secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, says he is ready to run in the Bangkok governor election and vowed to turn the city into an international smart city as soon as the regime gives the green light to local elections.

In an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, Mr Surin, a former foreign affairs minister of the Democrat Party, said that he has been casually approached by party executives to run in the gubernatorial poll.

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is expected to allow local elections to take place ahead of the general election expected in late next year, Mr Surin said.

By that time, he may be among potential candidates to be nominated to run in the city governor poll, Mr Surin said, while adding that he is keen to be part of efforts to restore international confidence in Thailand and make the country well-placed to compete with other countries.

He said Bangkok is an ideal place to start with because Bangkok citizens are the most democratically active.

Mr Surin said while political violence and confrontation have eased during the more than three years of the military regime's rule, the country has lost its balance and opportunities to tackle problems after the coup.

The NCPO itself cannot solve the country's problems, especially the economy, and the scourge of corruption still remains, he said.

Thailand may need a space to create democracy and this must begin in an area where people are equipped with knowledge and information for the effective defence of democracy, Mr Surin said.

''Bangkok should serve as a pilot area to create a network of major cities with transparency and efficiency in management and where people can scrutinise things in the in checks-and-balances process. This will also help with national reform efforts,'' Mr Surin said.

''I am not interested in running for Bangkok governor only to win the post, but I want to show that defence of democracy is possible. If we can reform Bangkok, we can also reform Thailand,'' he said.

Mr Surin said a NCPO green light to a gubernatorial election will give a clear signal of that democracy is returning to the country. ''I believe Gen Prayut does not want Bangkok to be ruled by anti-NCPO politicians and he should be able to assess how much visionary leadership the new Bangkok governor will have,'' Mr Surin said.

He said his campaign slogan is to make Bangkok an internationally-recognised smart city, a clean and safe city with transparency and efficiency in management where the people are given a participatory role.

Entrepreneurs will be asked to brainstorm ideas on how to make Bangkok an international city, he said, adding that foreign expats in Bangkok should also be encouraged to participate. ''I am confident most Bangkok residents are politically active and will step up to assert themselves by choosing a governor who is ready to respond to their needs,'' Mr Surin said.

He also said he will have the full and long ceremonial name of Bangkok translated and has promised to take action to make the city a prosperous one as shown in the meaning of its full name.

A former Democrat MP for Nakhon Si Thammarat, Mr Surin, now 68, graduated in political science from Harvard University. He served as Asean secretary-general between 2008 and 2012. He has been invited as a speaker at international meetings, with the most recent conference on refugees in Geneva.

A devout Muslim, Mr Surin takes care of a ponoh school with 2,000 Muslim students in his home province of Nakhon Si Thammarat. He gives away part of money gained from speaking sessions to support the education of the students, most of whom are underprivileged children.

Chaiya Yimwilai, assistant to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam and a former colleague of Mr Surin when they taught at Thammasat University, supported Mr Surin's decision to run for Bangkok governor.

Mr Chaiya said Mr Surin has what it takes to be the next Bangkok governor given his knowledge and abilities and good intentions for the country.

Mr Chaiya believed Mr Surin will receive the support of Bangkok residents.

He also echoed the view the NCPO will allow the city gubernatorial poll to take place ahead of the general elections, so the Bangkok governor election will herald a return of democracy.

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