Webinar on “The Politics of Thailand’s Capital City: Observing Bangkok’s 2022 Gubernatorial and Local Election”

For the first time since the 2014-2019 National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) military regime took power, Bangkok voters will have the chance to choose both a governor and members of metropolitan and district councils on 22 May. Even though the Bangkok electorate does not speak for the national electorate as a whole, the Bangkok election is a testing ground for the national political sentiment. In this webinar, Dr Pitch Pongsawat discussed the importance of Bangkok’s approaching gubernatorial election and the ways in which Thailand’s political parties might adjust their strategies for the national election expected next year in response to the results of this year’s polls in the capital city.


Thursday, 28 April 2022: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a webinar on “The Politics of Thailand’s Capital City: Observing Bangkok’s 2022 Gubernatorial and Local Election”. This was delivered by Pitch Pongsawat, an Assistant Professor in, and Head of, the Department of Government, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.

Dr Pitch outlined information on Bangkok including its history, changes in its population over the years, city planning, and its high GDP per capita in relation to Thailand’s other provinces in order to give attendees some context on Bangkok’s development. He then explained the history and structure of the city’s government since the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) was established in 1972.

Dr Pitch Pongsawat, Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of Government, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, delivered the talk. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The NCPO junta removed the city’s most recently elected governor in 2016, replacing him with an unelected appointee. As a special administrative area, Bangkok differs from Thailand’s 76 provinces in its residents’ ability to elect their own governor, even though its administration is still very centralized in nature.

In turning to the significance of the upcoming Bangkok election, Dr Pitch noted that the city’s governor was the directly elected official with the largest constituency in Thailand, far larger than that of any member of parliament prominent on the national scene. Opposition candidates have a history of winning gubernatorial elections, in which the votes of the city’s middle class and of residents of poor urban settlements are crucial.

Dr Pitch Pongsawat sharing an overview of Bangkok’s population changes over the years to provide some context on Bangkok’s development. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The speaker noted that, in its maiden outing, the Future Forward Party won 24.7 per cent of the votes cast in Bangkok in Thailand’s 2019 general election, while the military-backed Phalang Pracharat Party came in second with 24.3 per cent. Phuea Thai came in third with 18.6 per cent of the votes cast in the capital, while the Democrats came in fourth with only 14.6 per cent. These results represented a departure from the latter party’s historic strength in the Thai capital.

Findings suggest that many first-time voters cast their ballots for the subsequently dissolved Future Forward Party in 2019. In the upcoming gubernatorial election, there will be over 4 million eligible voters, more than a million of them in the 28-40 age group. The majority of eligible voters are going to be under the age of 40, including some 700,000 voters in the 18-27 age group. It is therefore worth watching which candidate the younger voting population will choose. There are 30 eligible candidates for governor. Some major political parties, such as Phalang Pracharat and Phuea Thai, are not fielding candidates for governor but are rather focusing on the councillor positions, in order to lay the groundwork for their general-election campaigns. Parties use local elections in Bangkok to scout for councillors who will be crucial in electoral canvassing in a general election.

Dr Pitch discussed some candidates who are considered frontrunners according to the polls from different news outlets.

Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn is the candidate of Move Forward Party — whose priorities are public welfare benefits, making Bangkok a safe and liveable place, the right to protest, and anti-corruption issues. After almost twenty years in the private sector, he won the election as a party-list member of parliament for the Future Forward Party, the predecessor party of Move Forward, in 2019.

Aswin Kwanmuang and Sakoltee Phattiyakul resigned from their positions of governor and deputy governor of Bangkok, respectively, to run in the gubernatorial election as independents. Aswin is a retired police commissioner whom the NCPO junta-appointed to serve as Bangkok’s governor in 2016. Sakoltee was a leading figure in People’s Democratic Reform Committee protest movement, which held street demonstrations against the Yingluck Shinawatra administration in 2013 and 2014, before that administration’s ouster in the coup of the latter year.

The Democrat Party is fielding Suchatvee Suwansawat, a professor of civil engineering and the former rector of King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Lad Krabang, as its candidate for the governor. Another notable candidate is Rosana Tositrakul, elected as a senator for Bangkok in 2008 with very strong voter support. Sita Divari, a former fighter pilot and government spokesman under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is contesting the gubernatorial election under the banner of the Thai Sang Thai Party. This new party’s leader, former Phuea Thai Party leader Sudarat Keyuraphan, has long enjoyed popularity with voters in the north and east of Bangkok.

Polls have consistently indicated that the most popular candidate for the governorship is Chadchart Sittipunt, who enjoys popularity across a broad cross-section of the Bangkok electorate: new voters, Phuea Thai supporters, and voters who supported the 2014 coup but have since soured on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha. Despite his former membership in Phuea Thai, Chadchart is attractive to conservative voters because of his background in academic life and his family ties. He is rated as the clear favourite to win the election as Bangkok’s next governor.

The speaker argued that campaigning in local elections in Bangkok is mostly focused on voters living in slum communities and in other less affluent areas of the city. Condominiums and gated communities are more difficult for election campaign workers to reach because of the secluded nature of those living spaces. However, if the younger generation can be reached through the use of social media, then the result of the polls might turn out to be surprising. The younger generation might have a new outlook on politics as suggested by the rise of social media movements such as “the Milk Tea Alliance”.

All of the gubernatorial candidates except for the incumbent Governor Aswin share the sentiment that the current Bangkok administration has lacked competence, especially in handling the COVID situation. Also, candidates have found common ground in their stress on improving Bangkok’s infrastructure, providing social welfare and healthcare, securing economic opportunity, tackling climate change, making use of big data, and solving corruption issues.

Questions posed to Dr Pitch by listeners concerned undecided voters, the voting behaviour of first-time voters, the dynamic of universities’ involvement in Bangkok city management, the major political parties’ approaches to the gubernatorial election, and particulars about candidates for governor.