Mind the gap: Bangkok’s generational divide shaping governor election
Bangkok’s generation gap is set to play a big role when voters cast their ballots in the first governor election in nine years on May 22.
“We are going to see distinct decisions across different generations of people,” said Assoc Prof Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, who teaches at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science.
A total of 4.37 million Bangkok residents are eligible to vote in the upcoming election, according to authorities. Of these, 15.5 percent or 700,000 are between 17 and 27 years old and will be voting for the first time in the gubernatorial election.
The group aged 28 to 40 accounts for 23 percent of the electorate while those aged 41-50 make up 19.5 percent. The 51-60 age group, meanwhile, accounts for 18.5 percent of eligible voters. Those aged 61 years old up make up the remaining 23.5 percent.
Politics of each generation
While not all members of a generation think alike, analysts say Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1979), and Generation Y (1980-1996) do share some traits with their generational peers. This observation also applies to members of Generation Z – those born between 1997 and 2009.
In Siripan’s opinion, both baby boomers and the Silent Generation (those born between 1928 and 1945) are more likely to take a conservative stance. Conservative voters are expected to embrace independent candidates Pol General Aswin Kwanmuang, 71, Rosana Tositrakul, 68, and Sakoltee Phattiyakul – who expresses conservative political beliefs despite his relatively young age of 44.
“Baby boomers and members of the silent generation, with some exceptions, tend to stick firmly to their political stance. If they voted for a particular political party in the past, they will likely vote for that party again,” she explained. “Those who have been red shirts will continue to be so. Those who previously identified themselves as yellow shirts will maintain that stance.”
Gen Y members, meanwhile, are expected to lean more towards younger candidates. Most of the election candidates belong to this category, hailing from Gen X.
Move Forward Party candidate Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn is 44, while Democrat Party candidate Suchatvee Suwansawat is 49, independent Chadchart Sittipunt is 55 and Thai Sang Thai Party’s candidate Sita Divari is 57.
Wooing people from other generations
Asst Prof Tavida Kamolvej, dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Political Science, said gubernatorial candidates are attempting to impress voters of all generations by forming diverse teams around themselves.
“Their team members come from different generations,” she pointed out.
Aswin, for example, had recruited young-generation members to his team to ensure his support base was not limited to baby boomers.
Wiroj will also appeal to both younger and older generations, Tavida believes. Young voters will like him because he represents the more liberal Move Forward Party, which is aligned with the new generation. Older voters will appreciate him for his bold stances.
Wiroj has pushed for structural reforms and has openly attacked the practice of paying city officials “tea-money” for favorable treatment, calling it nothing short of bribery. He may also appeal to elderly voters since he is similar in character to the late colorful politician Samak Sundaravej, who served as Bangkok governor from 2000 to 2004 before a brief stint as prime minister in 2008.
Chadchart, though by no means young, is well known among the young generation and has an open and frank working style that may appeal to younger voters.
What do voters say?
Kansiree Urasayanantana, a 19-year-old university student, admits that the age of the candidates may influence her voting decision because she wants a Bangkok governor who will represent and understand her generation.
“People of different generations tend to have different perspectives,” she commented. She said the most important criteria to judge candidates by are integrity, vision, as well as modern and practical ideas.
Apichart Larnlua, 58-year-old businessman, said he would base his voting decision on candidates’ policies, personal qualifications and political affiliation. Of these three factors, personal qualifications count the most for Apichart.
“If you ask me now, I think I like Chadchart’s policies,” he added.
A 52-year-old media worker, meanwhile, said she and her family members had always voted for the Democrat Party. So, they would definitely vote for Suchatvee in the gubernatorial election.
“His profile is good too,” she said. “It’s not a difficult decision.”
Napaporn, 45, said her loyalty to the Democrat Party had wavered in recent years. She said she would vote for a candidate with good qualifications who can work independently.
Krissada, 32, said he did not have a favorite political party and would make his voting decision based solely on candidates’ qualifications or profiles.
Both voters spoke on the condition that their surnames were withheld.
What do opinion surveys say?
Chadchart is the front-runner, according to the opinion polls. Also notable in recent surveys of public opinion is that Chadchart, despite his age, is the favorite among Gen Z respondents.
Chadchart was the top pick for governor in a recent poll of 400 Gen Z students in Bangkok, drawing 37.3 percent support.
“The survey covered students from many universities,” said Asst Prof Dr. Chettha Sapyen, a political-science lecturer at Thon Buri Rajabhat University.
Coming in second at 23.9 percent was Wiroj, while Aswin placed third with the support of 9.7 percent of respondents.
“It should be noted that about 17.9 percent of the respondents were still undecided,” Chettha said.
A recent survey of students at Rangsit University’s Faculty of Political Science produced similar findings. Of 104 respondents, 84 threw their support behind Chachart. Wiroj came a distant second, while Suchatvee ranked third.
Assoc Prof Thamrongsak Petchlertanan of Rangsit University said the findings suggested that the influence of the older generations on younger generations’ beliefs has faded significantly because youngsters were getting more of their information from the internet – not just schools, textbooks, and adults around them.
“Also, schools’ influence and inculcation of political beliefs have weakened during the learn-from-home period in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak,” he commented.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk