11 July 2024

While opinion polls show Bangkok voters favour independent candidates in the upcoming governor election, observers say the “swing vote” in the capital makes it difficult to predict a winner. Many voters remain undecided up until a few days before polling stations open.

The election is expected later this year, though the Prayut Chan-o-cha government has yet to announce the date.

This time around, independent candidates have pitched themselves to voters well before those running under party banners. So far, three independents have formally announced their intention to run for governor – former transport minister Chadchart Sittipunt, former National Police chief Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda and ex-senator and rights activist Rossana Tositrakul.

Chadchart has strong credentials but practically no voting base, while Chakthip is known to be a favourite of Palang Pracharath leader and Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan.

Recent polls by the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida Poll) showed that many Bangkokians are still undecided about their choice, though Chadchart appears to be the strong favourite.

In the most recent survey, conducted early this month, 24.77 percent of respondents supported Chadchart, ahead of 11.93 percent for Chakthip. That lead has widened from last month’s poll, when Chadchart was ahead of the former police chief by 22.43 percent to 15.51 percent.

Undecided till the end

However, the number of undecided voters had grown, from 29.96 percent in March to 32.67 percent in April.

“It’s not unusual for Bangkok voters to remain undecided, given that their final decision depends on short-term factors,” explained Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist from the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

“Bangkokians are known for their swing voting. Sometimes they focus on an individual but other times the party influences their choice. It is difficult to predict the winner. Voters tend to make up their minds only three to five days before the election,” the expert said.

He cited the last gubernatorial elections in 2013, when MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra of the Democrat Party performed badly in approval ratings compared to Pheu Thai’s Pol General Pongsapat Pongcharoen.

Yet Sukhumbhand came out the winner, proving that Bangkokians can change their minds overnight. The Democrat Party campaign had accused Pongsapat of having links with the red-shirt movement that “set fire to the city” in 2010. Rumours also spread that Pongsapat planned to nominate red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan as his deputy.

Ruling party risks split over candidate for Bangkok governor election

Three people are reportedly vying for the role, in the belief that running for the core coalition party will boost their chances of being elected later this year. The ruling party topped Bangkok in the 2019 election, winning 12 of the 30 MP seats on offer.

Proof of popularity

The academic was unsurprised that Chadchart had emerged as favourite in the polls, but he cautioned only time would tell whether he could maintain his popularity once more election rivals were introduced.

Yuthaporn believes a candidate from the opposition Kao Klai Party or the Progressive Movement – both incarnations of the now-defunct Future Forward Party – would be a strong contender at the ballot box.

Tycoon-turned-politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Future Forward surprised many by emerging as the third-largest party in the 2019 election, winning more than 6 million votes nationwide, 800,000 of which were garnered in Bangkok alone.

Yuthaporn speculated that Parit “Itim” Wacharasindhu, co-founder of the Progressive Constitution Group, would run either under Kao Klai or Progressive Movement. Parit defected from the ruling coalition’s Democrat Party to ally himself with the pro-democracy movement.

If he runs, Itim could lure pro-democracy voters away from Chadchart, said Yuthaporn.

Sick of politics

The March poll showed two-thirds of Bangkok voters (66 percent) preferred an independent candidate rather than a direct party affiliate.

“This reflects Bangkokians’ voting behaviour. They are obviously sick of polarised politics,” Yuthaporn said.

Bangkokians’ reaction to the political stalemate is understandable, given that they have borne the brunt of political tensions and rallies over the past two decades.

Maj-General Chamlong Srimuang was the first of three independents who have held the post of Bangkok governor, after he won his first election in 1985 under the Ruam Phalang Group banner.

Bhichit Rattakul, a former Democrat Party member, was elected in 1996 under the Mod Ngan Group. Then came veteran politician Samak Sundaravej, who won by a landslide in 2000 as an independent candidate.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk