11 July 2024

Bangkok governor elections used to be held once every four years until the 2014 coup saw national and local votes suspended. Now, expectations are rising ahead of the first gubernatorial election in nine years, as voters scrutinize several strong contenders who have already announced their intentions to join the race.

The election is tentatively scheduled for May, according to Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam.

Thai PBS World takes a look at the candidates, their campaign promises, and the challenges that lie ahead if they win the vote to become Bangkok’s most powerful official.

Election policies of strong contenders

Independent candidate Chadchart Sittipunt, who according to the latest public survey is the overwhelming favorite to win, has delivered a policy platform with four main pillars – people, technology, environment, and the economy.

His first policy pillar will focus on improving the quality of life for residents of the capital.

Meanwhile, his technology policies are aimed at integrating digital technology and solutions for higher work efficiency.

His third pillar addresses the city’s environmental problems, including waste and pollution.

Finally, he will seek to boost the economy and provide more job and business opportunities, while at the same time streamlining work processes to enable the Thai economy to rebound faster from COVID-19.

Pol Gen Aswin Kwanmuang, the current governor of Bangkok who also looks set to contest the upcoming gubernatorial race, ranks second in the same survey. His policies focus on “now” or “delivering immediate solutions”. If elected, he will also be able to continue projects that are ongoing under his current tenure.

Aswin was appointed as Bangkok governor in 2016, after Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha – then coup leader and junta chief – removed MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra from the post.

Prof Suchatvee Suwansawat, who was ranked third in the opinion poll, is the gubernatorial candidate of Thailand’s oldest political party – the Democrat.

Equipped with a solid background in engineering, the former president of King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang is determined to use his expert knowledge to tackle Bangkok’s infrastructure problems and thereby curb flooding, traffic congestion, and the risk of building collapses.

On education, he has made clear his commitment to improve the quality of Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)-run schools.

Suchatvee also vowed to improve health services, introduce apps to help people deal with the city’s polluted air, and also to ease global warming.

Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, who will contest the election under the Move Forward Party banner, has pledged to tackle Bangkok’s persistent problem of corruption, including bribery and gambling dens. His campaign slogan promises to, “Stop Sweeping Problems Under the Carpet” and vows to tackle corruption head-on for Bangkok people. He received the backing of about 8 percent of respondents in the opinion poll.

Former senator Rosana Tositrakul, another independent candidate, is running for governor under the slogan: “Tell Rosana and Get Solutions for Bangkok”. Though she enjoys the backing of several political groups, she is focused on gaining more public support. About 3 percent of poll respondents identified her as their preferred candidate.

Skytrain poses challenges to next Bangkok governor

Bangkok’s importance and problems

Bangkok is not only Thailand’s capital, but also its economic and administrative hub.

It also has by far the largest population of any Thai province. While 5.7 million people have a registered address in Bangkok, about 10 million people in total live or work in the metropolis. The Thai capital is home to a huge number of migrant workers, both Thai and foreign.

Asst Prof Tavida Kamolvej, dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Political Science, describes Bangkok as a complex city to administrate given it is home to a diverse range of communities.

“Within the city limits are old communities, crowded communities, and even communities that encroach on public spaces.”

She also pointed out that in terms of population, the boundary lines of Bangkok and adjacent provinces were also now blurred. This means the city’s next top official will have to think about the needs of people living in nearby provinces, too.

“Also, the Bangkok governor will have to deal with jurisdictions of other authorities, such as the Highway Department and the Department of Rural Roads,” she continued.

Meanwhile, the new governor should think seriously about changing the 1985 Bangkok Administration Act, said Tavida, adding that many parts of this law are too old to handle the current situation.

The BMA currently oversees 17 departments, 50district offices, 437 schools, 10 hospitals, 37 fire and rescue stations, six waste-transfer/treatment plants, and 28 wastewater treatment plants. Nearly 100,000 people work under the BMA, whose 2022expenditure budget is around Bt80 billion.

“The current structure of the BMA is cumbersome,” Tavida declared. “How can the BMA govern the capital’s highly-diverse geosocial and multicultural landscape using such an outdated law? It is time for BMA district offices to function independently in delivering public services.”

She added that authorities should be one step ahead, rather than waiting for a crisis to occur before they start exploring solutions.

She also suggested that the new Bangkok governor should divide their plans into three phases – short-, middle-, and long-term. The short-term plan, she said, should focus on solving problems seriously affecting Bangkokians within a few years.

“Some problems may take longer to solve. These should come under the middle- and long-term plans,” she said. A governor who only expected to serve one term should focus on the basics, she added. “But if you think you may be re-elected, then set your sights on what you can do for the capital in the next five to 10 years.”

Pongpayom Wasaphuti, a member of the Public Policy and Good Governance Foundation and a former Interior permanent secretary, listed nine key challenges for the next Bangkok governor to tackle.

They are town planning, traffic problems, floods, pollution, threats to life and property, issues related to the quality of life and wellbeing, problematic laws/regulations, the lack of citizen participation, and political problems.

“Traffic problems are not just about congested roads but also the high number of law violations and road accidents,” he said.

By Thai PBS World’s Politics desk