- Bangkok’s voters will go to the polls to elect a new governor on 22 May 2022.
- A record number of 31 candidates have entered the race for the post, though one has since been disqualified.
- The clear front-runner is Dr Chadchart Sittipunt, a former transport minister, and the Phuea Thai Party’s No. 2 nominee for the premiership in the 2019 general election.
- Chadchart left Phuea Thai in November 2019 to pursue the Bangkok governorship as an “independent” candidate. His meticulous preparation has earned him the front-runner spot in most opinion polls.
- Chadchart’s past ties to the chief opposition party continue to haunt him, especially since Phuea Thai has decided not to field its own candidate in the Bangkok governor’s race in order to avoid undermining Chadchart.
- Three other candidates have reasonable prospects of pulling an upset victory.
- The election’s outcome will be determined by three factors: the uncertain popularity of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha, the electoral behaviour of an estimated 700,000 young voters, and Chadchart’s ability to clarify to the electorate that he is a genuine “independent” capable of working with all political parties.
*Termsak Chalermpalanupap is Visiting Fellow in the Thailand Studies Programme, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
ISEAS Perspective 2022/43, 26 April 2022
A new record number of 31 candidates have entered the race for the post of governor of Bangkok, with one subsequently disqualified. Few of these aspirants, however, have the potential to best the favoured front-runner, Dr Chadchart Sittipunt. Who among those few might be able to pull a surprise upset victory on 22 May? And how?
Dr Chadchart is running as an independent. He has no team in the simultaneous race for the 50 seats on the Bangkok Metropolitan Council (BMC), but has a large team of over 10,000 volunteers to help in the campaign, and the endorsement of former Bangkok Governor Dr Bhichit Rattakul.
The 55-year-old former transport minister in the 2011-2014 Yingluck Shinawatra administration received a doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was the No. 2 nominee of the Phuea Thai Party (PT) for the premiership in the 2019 general election.
Chadchart left the chief opposition party in November 2019 to prepare for the Bangkok gubernatorial election. One remarkable outcome of his two-year-long preparation is his raft of 200 proposed policy initiatives in nine areas intended to make Bangkok a liveable city for every resident.
However, critics still question whether Chadchart has actually severed all his ties with PT. They point out that the party has not fielded a candidate in the Bangkok governor’s election, allegedly for fear of undermining Chadchart. In the meantime, it is running a full slate of 50 candidates in the BMC election.
Chadchart says that he is a genuine “independent” who will be able to work with all parties if he is elected. By his own assessment, his only “weakness” is his lack of a political base in major Bangkok communities, many of which are strongholds of well-established parties.
Chadchart has consistently led in the NIDA Poll’s surveys of voter preferences over the past two years. In the NIDA Poll published on 10 April, he maintained a commanding lead with 38.84 per cent support from respondents in the survey conducted between 5-7 April. Importantly, however, the number of “undecided” respondents remained high, at 26.69 per cent.
Coming in a distant second place with 10.06 per cent support was former Bangkok Governor Pol Gen Asawin Kwangmuang, whom the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta placed in the job in 2016 and who only recently resigned in order to run in the May election.
In third and fourth places were the Democrat Party’s candidate Dr Suchatchavee Sawansawas, with 6.83 per cent, and the Move Forward Party’s candidate Dr Wiroj Lakkhana-adisorn, with 6.02 per cent.
A survey undertaken by Thammasat University’s Research and Consultancy Institute and published on 3 April showed that Chadchart’s popularity has declined to 25.7 per cent, from 33.8 per cent in early February.
Even then, Chadchart appeared to remain the most popular front-runner at the start of the election campaign in early April. What can go wrong in his quest for the Bangkok governorship?
NEW CRUCIAL FACTORS
The new record number of 31 candidates reflects the strong interest of Bangkok voters in the city’s long-delayed gubernatorial election, the first since 3 March 2013. Those polls saw incumbent Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra of the Democrat Party re-elected with 1.256 million votes.
On 25 August 2016, Sukhumbhand was dismissed by NCPO leader and Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha on suspicion of corruption. General Prayut then appointed Asawin to succeed him.
Some 4.273 million voters will be eligible to cast ballots in the upcoming election. After a wait of nine years for the election, voter turnout is expected to be higher than the 63.38 per cent in the 2013 election. Be that as it may, the winner of the upcoming election needs only some one million votes to reach victory, chiefly because of the large number of candidates in the race.
One huge voting bloc is the estimated 700,000 voters aged between 18 and 27 who will cast ballots for Bangkok governor for the first time. Whoever manages to win the hearts and minds of these young voters will have a significant edge.
Only three political parties have fielded candidates in both the gubernatorial and the BMC elections: the Democrats, Move Forward and Thai Sang Thai (Thais Build Thailand). Four other parties have candidates only in the BMC election: PT, Phalang Pracharat, Kla, and Ruamthai United. The latter is, however, fielding only 12 and 5 candidates, respectively. And one party, Phalang Sangkom Mai, ran the ultimately disqualified Kraidej Bunnag as its candidate in the Bangkok Governor race, but no candidates in the BMC election.
Laws regulating local government elections prohibit holders of public office—ministers, members of parliament, senators, senior government officials and military officers—from taking part in election campaigns. These laws tend to work to the disadvantage of major political parties.
For example, Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward Party, cannot campaign for the party’s candidate Wiroj, because Pita is an MP. Ironically, people who have been banned from participating in national politics, such as Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of the Progressive Movement, can nevertheless campaign for candidates in local-government elections. Thanathorn has in fact been campaigning for Wiroj as well as for his movement’s candidate in the Pattaya City manager election, Kittisak Nilwattanatochai.
Former Governor Asawin’s candidacy constitutes yet another crucial factor in the race, as it makes the contest more competitive and the outcome more unpredictable. All three other incumbent Bangkok governors who have stood for re-election in the past won.
THREE RIVALS FOR NO. 2 SPOT
As their campaigning intensifies, Asawin, Wiroj and the Democrat Party’s candidate Suchatchavee appear to have reasonable prospects to emerge as the runner-up behind front-runner Chadchart.
Asawin has the advantage of incumbency, having spent nearly six years heading the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. The full team of 50 candidates that his “Rak Krungthep” or “Preserve Bangkok” group is fielding in the BMC election will also help him draw votes.
Prime Minister General Prayut and Interior Minister General Anupong Paochinda seem to favour Asawin, although they are prohibited by law from showing overt support for his candidacy. Every Bangkok governor needs the support of the prime minister and the interior minister, especially in maintaining public security and seeking extra funds to deal with emergencies, like in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Asawin’s campaign emphasises his management experience in leading the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and his wish to stay on to “finish the job” for the Thai capital. He tried but failed to obtain the endorsement of the Phalang Pracharat Party (PPP), the largest party in the ruling coalition. In addition to this setback, there are the factors of his advanced age of 71 and his police background, each of which will turn away many young voters.
With Thanathorn’s active support, 44-year-old Wiroj can attract considerable attention from young voters, who tend to dislike both General Prayut and General Anupong. His gain is likely to come at the expense of Chadchart. Thanathorn’s backing means that Wiroj can count on the support of a large number of Bangkok voters who voted for the former’s Future Forward Party in the 2019 general election. Those polls saw the party capture more than 800,000 votes and win eight of Bangkok’s 30 seats in the House of Representatives. Wiroj was a Future Forward party-list MP who moved on to join the Move Forward Party after the Future Forward was dissolved in February 2020.
As an opposition MP, Wiroj proved tenacious in criticising General Prayut and General Anupong, two of the strongmen behind the 2014 coup. His confrontational style raises serious doubt over whether he will be able to implement new initiatives if he is elected the Bangkok governor. Tackling the city’s chronic traffic problem, for example, requires the cooperation of the traffic police, who are under the supervision of the prime minister, General Prayut.
Wiroj’s campaign promise of creating a new Bangkok in which all Bangkokians are equal sounds idealistic and abstract. What, after all, can a Bangkok governor, with her or his limited authority, do to tackle the inequality that has become such a defining national concern for Thailand?
The 49-year-old Suchatchavee is meanwhile, positioning himself as an MIT-educated structural engineer who knows how to utilise modern technologies to tackle the chronic problems of Bangkok. The former rector of the justifiably prestigious King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology-Ladkrabang has the strong backing of Thailand’s oldest party and member of the prime minister’s governing coalition, the Democrats. Its candidates had won five of the past 10 Bangkok gubernatorial elections. Suchatchavee also enjoys the assistance of a team of 50 candidates in the BMC election.
Public sentiments in Bangkok towards the premiership of General Prayut will have a direct impact on the Bangkok election. If Bangkok voters are happy with the prime minister, they will vote for either Asawin or Suchatchavee. But if they are upset, they will turn to either Chadchart or Wiroj.
SPOILERS ON THE SIDELINES
Three other candidates are trying to do all that they can to make their presence in the race for governor of Bangkok felt. These are Thai Sang Thai Party’s candidate Squadron Leader Sita Divari and the independent candidates former Bangkok Senator Rosana Tositrakul, and Sakolthee Pattayakul. None of these three candidates received over 3.0 per cent of support in the NIDA Poll of 10 April.
Like his party leader Sudarat Keyaraphan, 57-year-old Sita formerly belonged to the PT. He was also a prominent F-16 fighter pilot in the Royal Thai Air Force. His candidacy will directly undermine Chadchart because both will count on votes from backers of the PT. Thai Sang Thai’s team of 50 candidates in the BMC election will also clash head on with the team from the PT.
Sudarat’s photograph and name feature prominently on Sita’s campaign posters. She was PT’s No. 1 nominee for the premiership in the 2019 general election, and her political stronghold was and still is in Bangkok’s eastern and northern suburbs. She left the PT in November 2020 to launch a new party of her own.
Sudarat can take an active part in the campaign for Bangkok governor because she is not an MP. Her ulterior motive in fielding Sita and the team of 50 candidates in the BMC election is clearly to advertise her new Thai Sang Thai Party in preparation for the next general election, when the number of House of Representatives seats in Bangkok will increase from 30 to 34.
Another lady who is trying to energise Bangkok voters is 68-year-old former senator Rosana. She was elected a senator for Bangkok in 2008 with nearly 750,000 votes. In the current race, she has received the tacit support of former two-time Bangkok Governor Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang. She has also picked up the endorsement of the influential State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation, thanks to her work in opposition to the privatisation of state-owned enterprises.
Rosana is capitalising in her campaign on her achievements in consumer protection, environmental protection and energy conservation. But she has neither a party machine nor a team of BMC candidates to support her. Her best bet is to convince those voters who are still “undecided”, estimated at around 20 per cent of the Bangkok electorate, to consider her.
One of the youngest candidates contesting the Bangkok governor election is 44-year-old Sakolthee Pattayakul. He previously served as one of the four deputies to Governor Asawin, in charge of public order, health and the environment. He also won a seat as an MP for Bangkok under the banner of the Democrat Party in the 2011 general election.
Sakolthee joined the anti-Yingluck protests of November 2013-May 2014 that, under the leadership of Suthep Thuagsuban of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, precipitated the military coup of the latter month. Suthep has now endorsed Sakolthee in the Bangkok governor election, saying that Sakolthee knows what needs to be done, and has the experience as well as the connections in the Prayut government, to get things done for Bangkok.
Sakolthee is directly competing with Asawin and Suchatchavee for the support of pro-government voters.
WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Front-runner Chadchart certainly cannot rest on his laurels and hope to cruise to a comfortable victory without doing more heavy lifting in the last few weeks before the 22 May voting day. At least three crucial factors will determine how the election will unfold.
First and foremost, the internal political stability of the ruling coalition is improving. The prime minister and some ministers will soon face a grilling in the House in a no-confidence debate after the parliament opens on 22 May for the 2022-2023 session, and General Prayut’s self-confidence and popularity will rise as there is no longer any serious threat to unseat him in the no-confidence vote. This will ease tensions among Bangkok voters and lead them to consider more favourably voting for pro-government candidates, particularly Asawin, Suchatchavee and Sakolthee.
Another unpredictable factor is the collective voting behaviour of the 700,000 young voters. Most probably, a large portion of this voting bloc will support Wiroj, regardless of what will happen in the General Prayut administration.
Last but not least is the lingering doubt about whether Dr Chadchart is a secret ally of the PT, spearheading in the vanguard to capture the Bangkok governorship as part of the party’s ambitious plan to score a “landslide victory” in the next general election. Bangkok voters who oppose the PT will not vote for Chadchart.
The upcoming elections in Bangkok will have significant implications on national politics, and vice versa.
Chadchart has maintained a commanding lead in opinion surveys, chiefly because he has been much better prepared than all other candidates over the past two years.
Three other candidates have improving prospects of scoring an upset victory. The fluctuating political fortune of the prime minister, the sentiments of the 700,000 young voters, and, finally, how well Chadchart can clear up the lingering doubt about his alleged secret alliance with PT, will determine the final outcome of the Bangkok governor election on 22 May.
 The Election Commission has accepted applications from 31 candidates. Their names, brief biographical data, and election numbers are as follows.
No. 1: Dr Wiroj Lakkhana-adisorn, 44, of the Move Forward Party; an ex-MP, and a former senior executive of a publishing company. He holds a doctorate in economics from the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) in Bangkok.
No. 2: Lt Col Thitha Rangsitpol Manitkul, 55, an independent candidate; a female former army officer and a former member of the Democrat Party.
No. 3: Sakolthee Pattayakul, 44, an independent candidate, a former Bangkok MP of the Democrat Party; he served as one of the four deputies to Bangkok Governor Pol Gen Asawin Khwanmuang.
No. 4: Dr Suchatchavee Suwansawas, 49, the Democrat Party candidate, and the former rector of the King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology-Ladkrabang (KMITL). He holds a doctorate in geotechnical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
No. 5: Virachai Laoruerngwattana, 45, an independent candidate, a graduate of KMITL, and a computer programmer.
No. 6: Pol Gen Asawin Kwanmuang, 71, an independent candidate, a former Bangkok governor, and a former head of the Bangkok Metropolitan Police.
No. 7: Ms Rosana Tositrakul, 69, an independent candidate, a former senator for Bangkok and a civil society activist.
No. 8: Dr Chadchart Sittipunt, 55, an independent candidate, a former minister of transport, and the No. 2 nominee for the premiership of the Phuea Thai Party in the 2019 general election. He turned down offers to become that chief opposition party’s leader, and left it in November 2019 to pursue the Bangkok governorship.
No. 9: Dr Watcharee Wannasri, an independent candidate, and a businesswoman.
No. 10: Dr Supachai Tantikom, an independent candidate, and a structural engineer who served as advisor to three Bangkok governors in the past.
No. 11: Squadron Leader Sita Divari, 57, a candidate of the new Thai Sang Thai Party, and a former the Royal Thai Air Force F-16 jet fighter pilot.
No. 12: Dr Prayoon Krongyos, 62, an independent candidate, and a former senior official of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
No. 13: Pisarn Kittiyaowamal, an independent candidate.
No. 14: Thanet Wongsa, an independent candidate, a businessman, and a social media influencer.
No. 15: Ms Sasikarn Wattanachan, an independent candidate, and a television presenter and businesswoman.
No. 16: Air Vice Marshal Tootpreecha Lerdsantadwatee, an independent candidate, and a retired senior Air Force officer.
No. 17: Utain Chartpinyo, an independent candidate, and a former leader of the Khon Thai Party (Thai People Party).
No. 18: Ms Soommana Appaired, an independent candidate who previously served in the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
No. 19: Kraidej Bunnag, the candidate of the new Phalang Sangkhom Mai Party (New Social Force Party). The Election Commission has found that Kraidej is not qualified to run, and his candidacy has been cancelled.
No. 20: Ms Amornpan Ounsuwan, an independent candidate, and an investment analyst.
No. 21: Nipatpon Suwanchana, an independent candidate, and a former advisor to the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection, Ministry of Justice.
No. 22: Waranchai Chokchana, 70, an independent candidate, and a well-known political activist who aspires to set Thailand’s record of running in eight consecutive Bangkok Governor elections since 1990.
No. 23: Chalermpol Uttarat, an independent candidate; he was a parliamentary candidate of the Thai Liberal Party in Bangkok in the 2019 general election.
No. 24: Kosit Suvinijjit, an independent candidate, and a former advisor to the Ministry of Justice.
No. 25: Prapat Banjongsiricharoen, an independent candidate and businessman.
No. 26: Pol Lt Gen Monthon Ngernwattana, an independent candidate, and a vice chairman of the Thai Police Association.
No. 27: Dr Poompat Asawapupin, an independent candidate and businessman.
No. 28: Saravudh Benjakul, an independent candidate; he recently resigned as the chief of the Courts of Justice Office, Ministry of Justice, under controversial circumstances.
No. 29: Kritchai Payomyaem, an independent candidate, public speaking trainer, and social media influencer.
No. 30: Pongsa Choo-nam, 58, an independent candidate and forest conservation activist.
No. 31: Vidhaya Jangkobpattana, 75, an independent candidate and retired government official: the oldest candidate in this race.
The qualifications of these candidates are subject to verification by the Election Commission. The final number of candidates may drop below 31 if more candidates are disqualified.
 Dr Bhichit Rattakul won the Bangkok governor election in 1996 as an independent. He was the Democrat Party’s unsuccessful candidate for the post in 1992, but he lost. His father was the late Bhichai Rattakul, a former leader of Thailand’s oldest party, a former deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, and a former House speaker.
 “‘ชัชชาติ’ เผย 200 นโยบายหาเสียง ‘ผู้ว่า กทม’ ชัดเจน ชี้เป็นอาวุธต่อสู้ปัญหา” [“Chadchart” discloses 200 clear-cut policies for his campaign in the Bangkok governor race, saying these are weapons for fighting problems], Bangkokbiznews, 6 April 2022 (www.bangkokbiznews.com/politics/997787, accessed 8 April 2022). Details of these 200 policies are posted on Dr Chadchart’s website: www.chadchart.com.
 “อุ๊ต๊ะ! ‘ชัชชาติ’ เปิดจุดอ่อนตัวเองในศึกเลือกตั้งผู้ว่าฯกทม.” [U-tah! “Chadchart” reveals his weakness in the Bangkok Governor election], Thai Post, 5 April 2022 (www.thaipost.net/hi-light/118181, accessed 7 April 2022).
 See NIDA Poll published on 10 April 2022 (https://bit.ly/3kadskz, accessed 10 April 2022).
 “โพลธรรมศาสตร์ ‘ชัชชาติ’ ยังเต็ง 1 ตามด้วย ดร.เอ้ – วิโรจน์ ส่วนอัศวิน อันดับ 4” [Thammasat Poll shows “Chadchart” remains the No. 1 front-runner, followed by Dr Ae and Wiroj; Asawin is in fourth place], Bangkokbiznews, 3 April 2022 (www.bangkokbiznews.com/politics/997240, accessed 8 April 2022). “Dr Ae” is the nickname of the Democrat Party’s candidate Suchatchavee. The Thammasat-affiliated pollster has conducted three surveys in which the popularity of Chadchart appeared to slip from 33.8 per cent in early February to 29.3 per cent in mid-March, and to 25.7 per cent on 3 April. The number of the “undecided” dropped from 21.7 per cent in mid-March down to 17.5 per cent on 3 April.
 Altogether 382 candidates are vying for the 50 seats on the Bangkok Metropolitan Council. Each of the 50 Bangkok’s districts has one BMC seat.
 In November 2019, Thanathorn was stripped of his parliamentary seat and banned from national politics by the Constitutional Court, which found him guilty of failing to dispose of all his shares in a magazine publishing company before applying to participate in the 2019 general election as a party-list candidate of the Future Forward Party. He now leads a new political action group called the Progressive Movement, which has fielded candidates in provincial and municipal and now in the Pattaya City local elections. However, how effective Thanathorn can be in assisting in the campaign for Wiroj in Bangkok remains to be seen. He, his mother and his elder sister are facing possible criminal prosecution for allegedly possessing forest land in Ratchaburi Province. On 29 March, the Land Department nullified their 59 no so 3 ko land ownership documents covering about 2,111 rai (834 acres) in the central province 100 kilometres west of Bangkok, because the documents were issued unlawfully, and no individual can own the forest land. No so 3 ko (น. ส. 3 ก) are land ownership documents of lower legal security than regular land title deeds; they were originally issued to landless rural people.
 They were Sukhumbhand Paribatra in 2013, Apirak Kosayothin (also a Democrat like Sukhumbhand) in 2008, and Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang (of the Phalang Dhamma Party) in 1990.
 “‘อัศวิน’ เปิดใจลาออก ลงสู้ศึกเลือกตั้ง ผู้ว่า กทม.” [“Asawin” opens heart in his resignation to join the Bangkok governor election], Post Today, 24 March 2022 (www.posttoday.com/politic/news/678973, accessed 10 April 2022).
 The Future Forward Party was dissolved in February 2020 by the Constitutional Court for illegally borrowing about 191.2 million baht from Thanathorn. The borrowing was deemed unlawful because it constituted an opening for Thanathorn to dominate the party with his wealth.
 They include Sukhumbhand Paribatra in 2013 and 2009, Apirak Kosayothin in 2008 and 2005, and Thammanoon Tien-ngern in the first election for Bangkok governor election in 1975. Apirak was sacked one year into his second term because of corruption allegations; hence there was an election for Bangkok governor election in 2009.
 NIDA Poll, op cit.
 In the 2019 general election, of Bangkok’s 30 seats in the House of Representatives 13 were won by the PPP, 9 by PT, and 8 by Thanathorn’s Future Forward Party, the predecessor of the present-day Move Forward Party. The Democrat Party failed to win any of the 30 House seats in the capital three years ago. The upcoming elections in Bangkok on 22 May constitute a significant new opportunity for the latter party to re-establish itself there, as the next general election approaches.
 “สรส. โดนใจนโยบาย หนุน ‘รสนา’ ชิงผู้ว่า กทม.” [SEWRC likes her policy, supports “Rosana” in the Bangkok governor race], Manager Online, 8 April 2022 (www.mgronline.com/politics/detail/9650000033955, accessed 8 April 2022). The SEWRC is the State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation, which serves as the umbrella organisation of labour unions in Thailand’s 56 state-owned enterprises.
 In the eleventh NIDA Poll survey in early March 2022, about 13.04 per cent of the respondents said they were still “undecided”. In Thammasat poll of 3 April, the number of the “undecided” stood at 17.5 per cent.
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