Residents of Thailand’s capital Bangkok will vote for the city’s leader on Sunday in a vote seen as a barometer of public sentiment ahead of the upcoming general election.
Thai politics since a 2006 coup have generally been polarized between pro and anti-military parties, and top candidates reflect this schism.
Poll favorite Chadchart Sittipunt is running as an independent. But his supporters and opponents see him as a proxy for the main opposition party, Pheu Thai, for which he ran as a candidate for prime minister in the 2019 general election. He served as transport minister in a government Pheu Thai from 2012 to 2014.
“You need a governor for the people: people-centric, you know, addressing their day-to-day issues, improving their day-to-day issues, that’s one thing,” Chadchart, 55, told The Associated. Press while recently campaigning in a market. “You also need a governor who has a vision, who has the strategy to take the city into the future, so you need two jobs.”
A record 31 candidates have entered the race, but Chadchart’s performance against one particular candidate is under particular scrutiny.
Asawin Kwanmuang was appointed governor in 2016 by Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former general who seized power in the 2014 coup and was re-elected after the 2019 election as Thailand’s prime minister.
Like Chadchart, the former senior police officer calls himself an independent, even though he is widely seen as the government candidate, replacing the ruling Palang Pracharath party.
“I urge (people) to vote for the ‘Love Bangkok’ team. Our team is not tied to any political party. Our team really wants to make Bangkok a better city,” he told reporters. at a campaign rally last week.
A third candidate whose results will be closely watched is Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn of the opposition party Move Forward. His party takes a more critical stance than the Pheu Thai towards the government, but for this reason it could siphon votes from Chadchart’s total, in favor of Asawin.
Candidates campaign on local issues: congestion, pollution, persistent flooding and more. But the poll will likely be influenced as much by its timing as by its stakes.
Prime Minister Prayuth has been in power for eight years. He is expected to face a no-confidence motion in parliament soon, and his rivals have long been rumored to seek to impeach him. Even if he survives, there is to be a general election early next year.
Prayuth was able to rule by fiat as the head of a military government, but struggled with the limits of parliamentary democracy, particularly catching fire for fumbling Thailand’s coronavirus vaccination program and stimulus package.
“People are fed up. They are fed up because the economy is going nowhere, there is no vision for the future,” said political science professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
“There is no future, that’s why young people are protesting. General Prayuth is out of his league so I think we’ll see voters say something here for the Bangkok Governor election and that will be a harbinger, a sign of things to come for the wider polls for Thailand.”
Associated Press video reporter Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this story.