Parties line up to woo Bangkok voters in the biggest battle of Thai election
Bangkok has become a bigger target for political parties campaigning for the upcoming election as it now offers more MP seats.
After redrawing of boundaries, the number of constituency seats in Bangkok has risen from 30 at the 2019 general election to 33 in this year’s national poll. The capital has more than twice as many constituency seats as Nakhon Ratchasima, which sits second in the rankings with 16.
And if party-list votes are also taken into account, Bangkok voters in this election will definitely have a bigger say in which party leads the next government.
With that in mind, parties have already started wooing Bangkok voters ahead of the election, which is tentatively scheduled for May 7.
“Competition will be fierce,” confirmed Dr Olarn Thinbangtieo, who teaches at Burapha University’s Faculty of Political Science and Law.
Every political party has a chance of winning votes in Bangkok because the capital’s voter base is not monopolized by any one party, Olarn said.
The battle for Bangkok constituencies in 2019 was won by the Palang Pracharath Party, which bagged 12 of the 30 MP seats in the capital. Pheu Thai and Move Forward tied for second place with nine seats each.
However, when it came to total votes cast in Bangkok, Move Forward topped the list with 804,772, while Palang Pracharath and Pheu Thai won 791,893 and 604,699, respectively.
The Democrat Party attracted 474,820 votes in Bangkok but failed to win any of the individual MP contests.
Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit is optimistic the party’s fortunes will improve at this election.
“Though we did not win any seats in Bangkok’s constituency election in 2019, we believe Bangkokians will definitely vote for us this time. Our popularity in the capital is rising again,” he said.
The Democrats have already started unveiling their MP candidates for the capital, with Prof Dr Suchatvee Suwansawat and former Palang Pracharath MP Watanya “Madame Dear” Bunnag blazing the trail to impress Bangkok voters.
Suchatvee contested in last year’s Bangkok governor election under the Democrat banner, but lost to Chadchart Sittipunt, who ran as an independent candidate.
Meanwhile, Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat is confident his party will perform even better this time out, declaring he expects his party to win at least half of the Bangkok MP seats up for grabs.
He has solid reasons to be confident. Not only did his party win the highest number of votes in Bangkok at the last general election, it also received the largest total donations from taxpayers in the 2021 fiscal year. It also enjoyed strong support from city voters at the Bangkok council election.
Move Forward has already declared candidates for most constituencies in the capital.
Opposition leader Pheu Thai, meanwhile, is the only party to declare candidates for all 33 Bangkok constituencies. It has targeted winning 17 to 18 seats in the capital.
“All our candidates are highly qualified and active in their respective constituencies,” said Puangpet Chunlaiad, chair of Pheu Thai’s coordination committee for political affairs in Bangkok. “Our policies are also carefully designed to address local problems.”
Palang Pracharath, however, is in danger of losing support from Bangkok voters and falling far short of its winning position four years ago.
“Its popularity is falling,” Olarn said, adding that “Several of its Bangkok MPs have jumped ship to join other parties.”
Only one Bangkok MP has stuck by the party. Palang Pracharath’s former vote magnet General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has been prime minister since leading the 2014 coup, has also switched parties and declared he will run for PM again under the Ruam Thai Sang Chart banner.
Although Palang Pracharath has recruited former MP and ex-Bangkok deputy governor Sakoltee Phattiyakul as chief strategist for its Bangkok campaign, hopes are not high.
“We admit that Palang Pracharath’s popularity among Bangkok voters in 2019 had a lot to do with Prayut. Still, we believe Bangkok voters will choose our policies this time,” Sakoltee said.
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Bhumjaithai goes urban
Long seen as a rural-based party, the Bhumjaithai Party is expanding its crosshairs to target Bangkok voters at this general election. As part of preparations, it has recruited Buddhipongse Punnakanta – a former co-leader of the once-popular People’s Democratic Reform Committee – and lured five former Bangkok MPs away from Palang Pracharath.
“We are ready and we want to win,” Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul said.
Buddhipongse said Bhumjaithai has paid serious attention to its policies for Bangkok ahead of this national poll. The party has almost filled its list of Bangkok MP candidates too.
“In all, we have eight former Bangkok MPs with us,” said Buddhipongse. That firepower suggests Bhumjaithai will have its first Bangkok MPs soon.
Led by Varawut Silpa-archa, the Chartthaipattana Party has vowed to field at least 10 candidates in Bangkok.
Korn Chatikavanij’s Chart Pattana Kla Party and Sudarat Keyuraphan’s Thai Sang Thai Party are also ramping up their efforts in the capital.
Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party, which has signed up Prayut, has yet to announce its candidates for MP contests in the capital.
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Which party is likely to win in Bangkok?
Olarn said the results of the 2022 election for Bangkok governor and councillors showed support from Bangkok voters is widening to many more political groups and parties.
“Many of the Bangkok councillors elected were under the Pheu Thai banner, so this means its MP candidates should also have a better chance in the capital,” he said.
However, Pheu Thai needs to tread carefully to avoid making mistakes, he added.
While its close links to fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is its strength in the provinces, it may be a weakness in the capital depending on the strategies it implements, he explained.
Olarn noted that Move Forward appeals to the new generation and first-time voters, while Pheu Thai connects well with the urban poor.
Bhumjaithai, meanwhile, knows full well that it will not be a favorite among young voters, so it is instead focusing on middle-class and working people.
The Democrat Party is certain it can rely on its old voter base, though it will have to do more to boost its popularity because many of its outstanding politicians have already defected to other camps.
“However, in Bangkok, political sentiment ahead of the general election will also count. This could very well be a decisive factor,” Olarn said.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk