Closing Thoughts on the Bangkok Elections

This is not really a coherent piece, but I wanted to jot down some of my closing thoughts now that we are entering the last leg of the Bangkok gubernatorial election.

Firstly, if you’re still undecided, I’d like to humbly point towards the voter guide that I put together for Thai Enquirer last month. Thai readers will also likely find this website put together by The Standard very useful; it is very comprehensive. And if you’re looking for something policy-heavy, this evaluation of Aswin Kwanmuang’s tenure by TDRI is worth a read.

Also, don’t forget that we are also electing members of the Bangkok Metropolitan Council (ส.ก.), a body that is hugely crucial to determining how Bangkok will be run. I have an explainer here about that race.

Now for some disorganized thoughts…

1) For my final prediction: like most observers, assuming there isn’t a massive upset, Chadchart Sittipunt will win. The reason for this is obvious: his base has held together, while his independent status has allowed him to reach across the political aisle. The conservative base, meanwhile, is still severely split, and I would be surprised if it consolidates enough to take over the lead from Chadchart. I will hazard a gut feeling guess that Sakoltee Phattiyakul, the former deputy governor, will put in a considerably stronger showing than his polling has suggested, while Aswin Kwanmuang, the former governor, has shedded a fair amount of support. (I discussed this phenomenon here.) How Suchatvee Suwansawat and Wiroj Lakkanadisorn will fare is anyone’s guess.

2) It’s harder to say which parties will be successful in the BMC election. As many of Chadchart’s voters will not be voting for Pheu Thai, I will not be surprised to see Move Forward win a good number of seats. I am most interested in how the Democrats fare (I wrote about this here), as it will be a significant data point in demonstrating whether their 2019 rout in Bangkok was a one-off or a portent of doom for the Democrats in the capital. I will also be waiting to see how many votes Ruam Thai United get, simply because I want to know whether naming your party like a football team wins votes. Also another point of curiosity: will Palang Pracharath, still the ruling party and the biggest seat winner in 2019, get any councilors elected? The decision of a number of their candidates to back Sakoltee comes too late in the game, I believe, to give their candidates the lift they need absent their own gubernatorial candidate.

3) I like that there was an element of choice in this election. This was not always the case; for a long time Bangkok’s elections were de facto a two party race. But even though Chadchart has held a commanding lead, the race also paradoxically felt more wide open because it attracted a large field of qualified candidates. I know that many voters across the political spectrum are feeling undecided right to the end, and I think that says something about the abundance of choice in this election. It is far better, I will say, to be spoiled for choice when it comes to candidates than to automatically have your pick in a two-party system.

4) It was also a good campaign because it was largely congenial and policy-focused. Towards the end there started to be rumblings of that classic of Thai politics: ไม่เลือกเรา เขามาแน่ (“if you don’t vote for us, you’ll really get the other guy!”) But all in all, this was not an ugly campaign. There was some mudslinging, yes — is that really avoidable in our politics? — but far less than what one might imagine. The candidates had numerous opportunities to debate each other and present their policy vision. This is a good thing for our democracy.

5) I was glad to see a lot of discussion of BMA schools during this campaign. As my TDRI colleague Thunhavich Thitiratsakul argued in the Bangkok Post, BMA schools are substandard and in dire need of reform. We tend to think of the governor as someone who is elected to fix urban issues like flooding and traffic — but it’s also hugely important that the governor prioritizes fixing an education system that will be a key determinant of how Thailand’s future generation fares.

6) It would have been good to see more discussion of Bangkok’s budget constraints. A good chunk of the budget is used up by salaries and compensation of the BMA bureaucracy, which places a pretty big limit on whether the candidates can pursue their big-spending policies. In a video produced by Workpoint Today, it appeared that this was a point a number of the candidates were not aware of, while one refused to answer the question because he had not yet studied how to use the budget. Seems like a pretty important issue to press!

7) Something that intrigued me towards the end was the emerging debate on the importance of the governor having their own team sitting in the BMC. Chadchart is not fielding any BMC candidates of his own, and that has led to the accusation that he would be a lame duck without friendly councilors helping him pass his budget. Chadchart has retorted that previous independent governors have successfully run Bangkok without a BMC team and in any case, the legislature has a duty to work with the governor for the benefit of all Bangkokians. I don’t know if I find that a convincing argument; in this age of deep polarization, I would argue that there is more incentive than ever for BMC members from unfriendly parties to not work with a governor from the opposing political side. That would make life much more difficult for the governor, a role which I believe is already vested with insufficient power and could really do without an obstructive city legislature. It makes much more sense, in my opinion, to go the Aswin route of running your own BMC team as well as an independent.

8) The candidates all have campaign music. Some of it is quite catchy.

I’ll definitely have more analysis once the race is over. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments as well!

(Cover image credits)

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