No vote but strong opinions: Bangkok expats ponder governor election
Most expatriates in Bangkok have no right to vote in the May 22 gubernatorial election, yet the outcome affects their everyday lives just as much as those of other residents.
The quality of life in this city of around 10 million residents relies on how effectively the governor and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) deal with the Big Mango’s big challenges, including traffic congestion, waste disposal, pollution, and flooding.
Certainly, the Bangkok governor and the BMA alone have insufficient authority and money for large infrastructure projects — so they need to cooperate with the central government and relevant state agencies.
Thai PBS World talks to long-term expats in Bangkok about their views on candidates and their policy platforms, as well as what the next governor should do to make the Thai capital a better home for its residents.
‘More green space, please’
Mark Clark, a 51-year-old British office worker in Bangkok, said he is interested in plans to improve public infrastructure — such as transport and green space — that will make the city a more pleasant place to live for everyone.
Although he is not eligible to vote, Clark follows news about the upcoming election every few days and has checked the policies of the leading candidates to see how they might affect him as a Bangkok resident.
“The policies I am interested in are the ones that will make my life easier in the city, such as plans to link up transport systems like the BTS and buses, plans for more green spaces, and solutions to seasonal PM2.5 pollution as well as flooding,” he said.
The expat said he likes the policy, offered by several governor candidates, of giving tax breaks to Bangkok landowners who transform their vacant plots into mini-parks.
“I especially like Chadchart Sittipunt’s idea of taking inspiration from Paris and making sure everyone has a green space within a 15-minute walk. I also like his vow to punish construction companies who add to PM2.5 pollution by taking away their permits,” he said.
Public interest comes first
Also, Rosana Tositrakul has a good record of standing up against corruption and vested interests, which are big problems affecting the direction of city development, Clark added.
For him, the incoming governor must work for the public interest rather than big business. He or she has huge problems to tackle: air pollution, quality-of-life issues like green space, transport, and traffic congestion, and inequality in education and other core services.
“To tackle these successfully, the winning candidate has to be a real servant of the public, not a partner for business interests,” he said.
Meanwhile, Italian marketer “Luke” agrees that corruption is a chronic problem that should be tackled. That’s why he is attracted by Move Forward Party candidate Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn’s policy that focuses on tackling corruption, bribery and inequality.
“It is clear that corruption is holding back the economy of this country and heavily damaging the image and life of most citizens,” said the 40-year-old, who has lived in Bangkok for over five years.
“It’s also astonishing to see how different treatments are reserved for different classes of people under the eye of the law,” he added.
Campaign winners and losers in the race to become Bangkok governor
Call for equal treatment
Equality is also important for Spanish customer-support manager Daniel Sanchez.
The 33-year-old said that as a foreigner, it doesn’t really matter to him who is the next Bangkok governor.
“However, I feel it’s important for him/her to make sure both Thais and foreigners are treated equally. The actions and decisions [of the incoming governor] should benefit the entire population of Bangkok.”
Sanchez, who has been living in Bangkok for four years, said he expected the next governor to bring positive changes to the city.
Many expats in Thailand complain about the practice of double-pricing, seeing it as unfair treatment of foreign residents.
Focus on environment and safety
Taiwanese investor Stanley Kang, who is chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand (JFCCT), wants the next city chief to ensure that Bangkok has a decent environment and is a safe place to live.
“The new governor should take care of traffic congestion and get rid of PM2.5 dust,” he said.
Having lived in Thailand for 42 years, Kang is unusual among expatriates in having Thai citizenship and the right to vote.
Kang, 55, said it was very good for Thailand to hold local elections after almost a decade without a vote. “Whoever wins the election to become new Bangkok governor should make the city more international,” he added.
Popular city among expats
There is no official record of the precise number of expats who live in Bangkok – or in Thailand.
However, the city has become a popular destination for foreigners looking for a home away from home.
Last year, Bangkok was ranked 11th out of 57 world cities in a survey by expat forum InterNations, which has 4 million members in 420 cities. The Expat City Ranking 2021 was based on opinions from 12,420 expats living in those 57 cities.
Expats living in Thailand were impressed by the low cost of living, affordable housing, and friendly locals, according to the survey.
But worries over the quality of urban life and lack of career opportunities were mentioned among unfavorable factors. Some respondents complained about pollution and damage to the environment from plastic waste.
Meanwhile, last August digital nomads ranked Bangkok as the top city in the world for a “workation”, combining work and vacation, in a survey conducted by the German rentals search engine Holidu.
“The cost of living is one of the most affordable in the world. A decent meal costs next to nothing,” Holidu said of the Thai capital.
Winners and losers in ‘poster war’ for Bangkok governor election
‘Try your best despite limits’
A 60-year-old French business owner who has lived in Bangkok for over 30 years pointed to the Bangkok governor’s limited power.
“The governor has an important role in managing issues that matter for the everyday life of all Bangkokians, such as waste management, the city’s overall cleanliness and look, or crisis management in times of floods. But it looks like in many areas the governor may not have that much power as in fact other agencies are the key,” he said.
“Whoever wins, the next Bangkok governor will need to understand the limits of the position’s powers while doing their utmost in the areas where they can really make a difference.”
The long-time expat added that in his experience, many of the campaign promises made by Bangkok election winners never materialize. “There was quite a gap between the campaign promises of would-be governors and their actual achievements [after being elected],” he said.
Garbage collection also an issue
Nepalese expat Assajita Awale, who owns the decade-old Himalaya restaurant in Bangkok’s Pratunam area, said much of the waste from his eatery was left uncollected after garbage trucks started coming every two or three days instead of every day a few years ago.
As a result, his restaurant was left with the burden of transporting the uncollected garbage to the dumpsite themselves.
“I often fight with Ratchathewi district officials [about the matter]. I pay the fee of 3,000-4,000 baht per year, plus an extra reward for the garbage collectors. Why do I also have to do it myself?” complained the 52-year-old restaurateur, who has lived in Bangkok for almost 40 years.
Old Thai charm must be preserved
Another important aspect for Awale is the need to retain Bangkok’s special charm or “Thainess”, embodied in things like traditional fresh markets and street food.
“The city’s development and orderliness are necessary. But you also need to preserve Thai uniqueness to attract foreign tourists,” he said. “More needs to be done for Bangkok to attract tourists.”
Two years ago, the BMA unveiled a plan to ban vendors from the city’s streets, in a bid to improve safety and cleanliness. The move sparked an outcry from both locals and tourists, as the ban was viewed as a death sentence for Bangkok’s globally renowned street food culture.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk