6 June 2024

The Pheu Thai Party has a strong cause for celebration. Move Forward, if it wants to celebrate as well, must do so cautiously. The Democrats still have their work cut out despite earlier promises. Palang Pracharath’s great anxiety has been very much aggravated.

That’s how a more thorough mathematical analysis of the City Assembly election paints the political landscape of Bangkok. The results of the election, it is believed, are a better barometer for political parties’ popularities than the outcome of the gubernatorial poll, which seems to yield mixed messages due primarily to landslide winner Chadchart Sittipunt’s decision to run as an independent and the possibility that two candidates serving under the Prayut administration may have taken votes off each other.

Pheu Thai, which everybody knows backed Chadchart, did extremely well in the City Assembly election, winning 620,009 votes or over 26% of the turn-out. The party emerged the Bangkok champion, beating Move Forward (485,830 votes), the Democrats (348,852) and Palang Pracharath (274,970) in the process.

Pheu Thai won 604,699 votes in Bangkok in the general election in 2019. At that time, 3,102,280 Bangkokians cast their ballots. In other words, the biggest opposition party had 19.49% of the votes.

That the party won a bigger amount of votes this time despite a smaller turn-out (A little more than 2,635,000 Bangkokians participated in the City Assembly election) is a massive achievement. This has also lent weight to claims that the party coming third in terms of popular votes in Bangkok in 2019 was caused by the Thai Raksa Chart spin-off disaster. The 604,699 votes in 2019 followed 804,272 votes won by Future Forward (now Move Forward), the then Bangkok champion in terms of city-wide votes, and 791,893 votes received by the Palang Pracharath Party.

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This is why Move Forward cannot be totally happy although it won the second biggest number of seats in the City Assembly election. The number of votes gained (485,830 or 20.93%) is a significant drop from 2019 (804,272 or 25.93%). Adding to worries must be the fact that two men serving under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and competing separately for the Bangkok governorship would beat Move Forward’s candidate if votes for the duo were combined.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have seen a virtually unchanged situation which is worrisome all the same. The party got 474,820 votes from Bangkok in the general election in 2019, or 15.31%. This time in the City Assembly election, it has 15.03%. Considering that the party had generally been the dominant force in Bangkok until the 2019 humiliation, the performance in the City Assembly election, which showed no improvement, remains a big worry.

The Democrat Party had seemed to do well in earlier popularity surveys, probably helped by the decline of the Palang Pracharath Party and the image of party leader Jurin Laksanavisit, which is decent compared with those of other government coalition chiefs. But the City Assembly election appears to suggest that the Democrats would go into the general election as a major underdog in Bangkok.

They won’t have to worry much about Palang Pracharath, though. The biggest government coalition party won just 11.85% of City Assembly votes as opposed to 25.53% in the general election in Bangkok in 2019. This time, Palang Pracharath won in just two constituencies, compared with Pheu Thai’s 20, Move Forward’s 14, and Democrats’ 9.

The City Assembly election shows that Palang Pracharath’s Bangkok goal for the next general election is not to reclaim domination, but try not to become extinct. Worse still, to continue allying itself with the Democrats would help very little.

A Pheu Thai-Move Forward combination would almost certainly deliver the capital for the opposition bloc in the next general election. Their rivals’ hope would have to depend on Bangkok’s main political characteristic as the most fickle populace in Thailand, and it could take just weeks, not months or years, for an absolute swing from one party to another or from one camp to its opposite side.

So, what is likely to happen now? Pheu Thai appears to be the only party that can “play it safe”. It is unwise to do anything dramatic that runs the risk of making the tide turn. The party’s rivals and frenemy Move Forward don’t have that luxury. They need drastic measures and probably desperate ones as well.

by Tulsathit Taptim