Man of the people: Chadchart shapes up
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Man of the people: Chadchart shapes up

Chadchart Sittipunt
Chadchart Sittipunt

Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt -- the city's first elected chief in nine years -- remains popular with the public since he secured a landslide victory in the gubernatorial election in May.

He has become the talk of the town since winning on May 22 with more than 1.3 million votes, in the process ousting incumbent Pol Gen Aswin Kwanmuang who was appointed by the former junta in 2016.

The unofficial vote count for Mr Chadchart surpassed 1.3 million, outnumbering the accumulated votes of his six closest rivals and breaking the record for Bangkok governor elections.

The Democrat Party's Suchatvee Suwansawat and the Move Forward Party's Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn came second and third, respectively.

Man of the people

Mr Chadchart has won over much of the public and has even been dubbed "the strongest minister on Earth" by netizens in tribute to his impressive physical build after he was seen wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt and shorts while walking barefoot and giving alms at a temple.

That now-famous photograph has since become one of the most popular internet memes in Thailand. At that time, he was serving as transport minister in former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai-led government and overseeing a major transport project in Surin in December, 2013.

Before entering politics, he worked as an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Engineering while also serving as the university's assistant rector.

Mr Chadchart made it clear he would try to avoid getting involved in national politics but said he was ready to support any government that had been installed in power.

While serving as transport minister, Mr Chadchart pushed for a high-speed train project to be funded by 2 trillion baht in government loans. However, the project was aborted after the Constitutional Court ruled against a government bill to approve the massive borrowing.

Mr Chadchart declared himself as an independent candidate for the gubernatorial election two years ago, using his strong communication skills to explain to the public how he planned to tackle nagging problems in Bangkok while canvassing.

Mr Chadchart insisted there would be no honeymoon period in his case. Rather, he would get down to business as soon as his election had been formally endorsed.

Since his official appointment as governor of Bangkok on June 1, 2022, his reputation and fandom have grown stronger. He has been spotted jogging around the capital on most mornings and set up his own live communication platform with the public via his Facebook account.

Mr Chadchart's supporters can easily find him during the day via his live broadcasts, meaning they could go and meet him and even take selfies together. Some media figures have joined him on his morning jogs to write news reports about him, taking the number of his Facebook followers to more than 1 million.

As was his style, he would often visit areas in Bangkok's 50 administrative districts without notifying anyone in advance. He also seemed to relish having lunch with common folk on the lower rungs of the social ladder, such as street sweepers, showing them respect while addressing the issues they face and trying to come up with solutions for their financial difficulties.

Occupational hazard

Since his first day on the job, Mr Chadchart has faced criticism, however. One of his chief critics has been social activist Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution. Mr Srisuwan petitioned the Office of the Election Commission of Thailand against Mr Chadchart for allegedly trying to buy votes by means of issuing vinyl campaign posters that could be converted into shopping bags or aprons and sold online.

But Mr Chadchart responded by saying he welcomed such scrutiny, suggesting he felt such an attack was unjustified as his motives were honourable.

A Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) source said Mr Chadchart gives the job his all and takes it upon himself to solve the problems faced by the people of Bangkok rather than delegating responsibility. A case in point would be the chronic flooding which the capital struggles with each year. Many people view his efforts to solve the problem as a reflection of his genuine desire and determination to make people's lives better.

Mr Chadchart also seems to have a strong distaste for corruption.

But no one is perfect and one of his flaws, according to the source, is that he can sometimes be too slow to take action. Another is that he tends to apply his academic knowledge to solve problems without really getting to the root of the matter, the source added.

Meanwhile, Sangsidh Piriyarangsan, chairman of the Senate committee on poverty and inequality reduction, said Mr Chadchart and his team are still unable to solve long-standing problems in the city such as flooding, waste and traffic issues as he has failed to communicate well with officials who already have experience in dealing with them.

On the flip side, Saree Aongsomwang, secretary-general of the Foundation for Consumers, said Mr Chadchart is the first governor of Bangkok who shows that he truly cares about the voice of the people. She gave as an example the fares levied on users of the city's BTS Skytrain, which Mr Chadchart ensured were reduced to just 15 baht per ride for its new extension line.

Ms Saree said government agencies must lend more support to improve public transport, while the BMA can earn extra revenue from advertisers to further lower fares. She said the public also needs to pay more attention to the issue of skytrain fares to see these reduced from a maximum rate of 59 baht a journey to 44 baht.

Happy campers

According to an opinion poll by the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida) on Dec 4, Mr Chadchart still remains popular with the public after six months in office.

The survey was conducted among 1,500 eligible voters during Nov 25-30. Over 42% of those surveyed said they were satisfied, while 39% were highly satisfied.

Asked about measures to increase the number of green spaces in Bangkok, 39.1% of respondents said they were highly satisfied with efforts being made under the stewardship of Mr Chadchart while 36.4% were satisfied.

Yet 32.3% said they were "not quite satisfied" with his approach to tackling the cost-of-living problem, while 20.4% were "quite satisfied".

About 8% were not quite satisfied that Mr Chadchart has not managed to fix long-standing problems like traffic congestion and seasonal flooding.

Citing data from the BMA's Environment Department, many new pocket parks have been built in 50 districts across the city, seeking land from state agencies, state enterprises and the private sector. As of now, 101 sites are awaiting approval to be transformed into such parks.

The Bangkok governor has also started carrying out the BMA's one-million-tree campaign, with 171,000 already planted in 2022. His plan was for every one of the city's 50 districts to plant 100 trees each Sunday during his term as governor, meaning the city would reach 1 million trees by 2025.

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