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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Bangkok elects new governor


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Elections for Bangkok’s governor were held in the Thai capital on Sunday, with former Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt

The last gubernatorial election in Bangkok was held in 2013, a year before the military overthrew the democratically elected government. Nine years without an election in Thailand’s capital, and this past Sunday, May 22, the city’s four and a half million voters finally had a chance to elect a governor from a diverse pool of candidates. Turnout at the polls was 90 percent, and people came en masse to choose a new governor for their city.

There were 31 candidates in the race, and the closest attention of observers was the battle between the two candidates who registered as independents. One was Chadchart Sittipunt, Thailand’s former transportation minister, and the other was Asawin Kwanmuang, who had been governor since 2016, appointed by the military. He resigned in March to run in the election.

The candidates campaigned on issues such as congestion in the capital, pollution and persistent flooding in the city.

As a result of this election, Chatchart Sittipunt, Thailand’s former minister of transportation, won a historic victory with 1.38 million votes, showing a big lead over the other candidates. He broke the record set by Sukhumband Paribatra nine years ago when Sukhumband garnered 1.25 million votes.

Democratic Party candidate Suchatchavi Suwansawas in second place with 254,723 votes. Move Forward opposition party candidate Viroy Lahanaadisorn came in third with 253,938 votes.

Chatchart insists he is an independent candidate, although the fact that he previously served as minister of transportation under the Yingluck Shinawatra administration and that the main opposition Pheu Thai party did not send any candidate to run for governor of Bangkok this time means that many, including his rivals, consider him a proxy for the party of exiled and fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Fears of Thaksin regaining political power in Thailand are likely to be critical for Bangkok’s new governor, which is why Chatchart has not run under the Pheu Thai Party and insists he will try to find a compromise to improve the quality of life in Bangkok as an independent leader.

Chatchart Sittipunt has been preparing for the Bangkok elections for the longest time (not counting former governor Asawin, who had practical experience) since he announced his intention to run for mayor two years ago. Some of his campaign promises include reducing the price of public city transportation fares, building affordable housing, reducing health care costs, lowering rents for food vendors, planting a million trees during his term and ensuring that every Bangkok resident lives at least a 15-minute walk from the nearest public park and more.

Policy experts have already commented on the new Bangkok governor’s victory, writing that “if anyone in the current race has come close to becoming a pop star in Thailand, it is Chatchart. After the results were announced and his resounding election victory, young Thais surrounded him and then lined up to take selfies with him.”

However, there are other opinions, such as that “the toxic political environment may make it difficult for Chatchart to run, as his opponents are likely to try to make him fail as the next governor of Thailand’s capital.”

In addition to the governor, Bangkok also held elections for city council members this past Sunday. Of the 50 city council seats, the opposition Pheu Thai party won 19 seats, followed by the Forward Movement with 14 seats and the Democratic Party with 9 seats.

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