Bangkok is off to the polls today to elect a new Governor

4.4 million eligible Bangkokians head to the polls today to vote for a new Governor. Out of the 77 provincial electorates in Thailand, only Bangkok has an election for the top post. Mostly, the Governors are titular rather than political appointments and spend a lot of their time opening pre-schools and planting trees. The provincial governors are hand-picked by the central government, but not BKK.

In Bangkok, the position of Governor inevitably ends up with a political dimension as aspiring Bangkokian take a tilt at the post. Today’s election sees 31 candidates fronting up in, what’s been, a colourful election with the cheap vinyl vote-for-me banners scattered around the city’s roads looking decidedly tatty after flopping around in the wind for the past 2 months.

The face on the winning vinyl banner will serve for 4 years. The vote will be across 50 seats on the Bangkok Metropolitan Council.

It’s been a long 8 years since the capital’s locals have voted for a Governor. After the coup in 2014, the military junta suspended the Bangkok election and appointed a non-elected Bangkok governor, 71 year old Aswin Kwanmuang, who has been at the post ever since.

He’s running again in this election though the polls indicate he is unlikely to be elected.

Whilst much of the early headlines were dominated by the downfall of Democrat deputy leader Prinn Panitchpakdi, which led to a shake up in the national Democrat party infrastructure, forcing the exit of a number of the leadership team. It certainly killed off the chances of any candidates affiliated with the centrist Democrat party.

It’s also clear that the outcome of today’s vote in the capital will be a barometer for next year’s general election (it could be called any time from later this year. But… This Is Thailand). On that note, the current coalition government, cobbled together mostly from a fractured group of independents, has been side-lined as the candidates do their best to distance themselves from the national topics.

On the matter of the policies and debates throughout the campaign, it has surprisingly focussed on issues that the Bangkok Governor can do little about.

Cost of living expenses, fuel costs, appeasing the protesters, PM 2.5 micron particulate air pollution… even Bangkok floods.

Most of these are national issues. The Bangkok flooding is certainly a Bangkok city issue (floods perfectly on-queue earlier this week in the final days of the campaign) but needs massive infrastructure spending, beyond the rates raised in Bangkok, if it is really going to be tackled.

With Bangkok sinking, slowly, and the Gulf of Thailand water rising, just as slowly, high-cost decisions will have to be made to either move parts of Bangkok away from the rising waters or build significant levies to repel the water.

So any lectern thumping from candidates over this issue are well beyond the scope of the Governor’s powers, or budget, in their 4 year term.

In fact, most of the candidates showed a complete misunderstand the limits of power for the Bangkok governor as they posted their promises and travelled around the city for photo opportunities.

Without going through the 31 candidates, most of whom appear to have little idea about the scope of the powers of the Bangkok governor, we’ll give you a quick bio of the expected winner, the front runner in all the pools leading up to today’s vote.

Dr. Chadchart Sittipunt is a 55 year old politician and former transport minister, engineer and university professor. As Thailand has been looking inward and coping with the Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns, Chadchart has spent the 2 years preparing for today’s poll.

A network of more than 10,000 volunteers, politicians and academics have been working around the 50 districts of Bangkok in a co-ordinated lead up campaign. His manifesto for post 2022 Bangkok includes over 200 policy proposals.

“For more than two years, we have had a crucial force that joined our ‘Friends of Chadchart’ team and that is community volunteers – brothers, sisters and friends who have helped us reach various communities in the 50 districts of Bangkok.”

Notably, through the darker days of lockdowns and restrictions across Bangkok, his teams have been actively involved in ‘Neighbourhood’ projects to distribute food bags, medicine and relief items. He has pressed the flesh right around Greater Bangkok and firmly planted himself as the experienced, and preferred, front-runner.

Earlier Chadchart was a member of Thailand’s biggest opposition party, Pheu Thai, which he left in 2019 to focus on the Bangkok governor race. His stand-out ‘lead from the front’ campaign has been a thorn in the side of the Bangkok elite and the ruling conservative Prayut government.

Chadchart’s campaign focus was at least ‘local’ and achievable… to improve 9 key aspects of the capital – environment and public health to economy, transportation, a lack of rubbish bins and waste segregation at the source, and creative public spaces.

His only threat is any possible shenanigans or vote-swapping from 4 conservative and royalist candidates that represent the ‘other’ side of politics. Their failure, at least during the campaign, to make any serious headway, or eat into Chadchart’s poll lead, is being reflected in murmurings at the national government leadership level that may lead to more instability following today’s election.

The quartet – former governor Aswin Kwanmuang, Suchatvee Suwansawat (a Democrat who has spent most his time shaking off the #metoo noise), and independents Sakoltee Phattiyakul and Rosana Tositrakul. The conservative quartet came up with the idea of “strategic voting” to boost their chances. But they have been squabbling over who would stand back and allow another in the quartet to garner the required votes to take on Chadchart.

If Chadchart does lose today’s vote it will be an indictment of every polling company in Bangkok. But he’s clearly done his homework, worked for over 2 years to win the position and has the political mileage and experience.

There is an alcohol ban across Bangkok today until 6pm. By the way, same in Pattaya where there is a mayoral election today as well.

Bangkok News

Tim Newton

Tim joined The Thaiger as one of its first employees in 2018 as an English news writer/editor and then began to present The Thaiger's Daily news show in 2020, Thailand News Today (or TNT for short). He has lived in Thailand since 2011, having relocated from Australia.

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