17 July 2024

Chadchart Sittipunt’s stunning landslide may have hidden scrambled messages voters in the capital delivered on Sunday in the Bangkok gubernatorial election, but arguably the real nightmare for the shaken powers-that-be was in the outcome of the city assembly votes.

He won competing as an independent, leaving the question of “what if?”. How many votes represented the Pheu Thai Party’s power base? How many of the other votes did he earn for himself through a reputation as a hard-working professional with technical abilities? How many votes were cast by those satisfied that he had, seemingly at least, distanced himself from a highly-controversial figure, or Thaksin Shinawatra to be exact? How many votes were pro-Thaksin ones?

Former Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang was snubbed, losing to even his ex-deputy Sakoltee Phattiyakul. But if votes for the two Prayut appointees were combined, the number must have worried the second and third places. Is it possible that Aswin and Sakoltee took votes off each other and thus narrowly lost to Suchatvee Suwansawas and Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, who both must have enjoyed solid “loyal” bases?

A TV commentator asked whether Suchatvee and Wiroj in fact won far fewer votes than they were supposed to, considering what the Democrat and Future Forward (now Move Forward) parties got in the capital in the 2019 election. Future Forward actually emerged Bangkok’s champion in 2019 in terms of “popular votes” in the capital, garnering more than 804,000 votes. The Democrats got over 474,000 votes. On Sunday, Democrat Suchatvee and Move Forward Wiroj were neck and neck, but neither won more than 260,000 votes.

The aforementioned questions regarding Chadchart, Suchatvee, Wiroj, Aswin and Sakoltee painted a political picture that is far from settled. However, the Bangkok assembly election delivered a much clearer message and gave the Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties real causes to celebrate. The former won 19 seats and the latter 14, comfortably making up the majority.

The Democrats got 9, which is not too bad considering the general election humiliation in 2019. Shocked to its core must be Palang Pracharath, which won just 2. Taking the 2019 “popular votes” into account and the Palang Pracharath’s decline looks even more staggering. The ruling coalition party received more than 791,000 Bangkok votes in that election, second only to Future Forward.

Bangkok Governor-elect Chadchart begins his day jogging in Lumpini Park

As a radio commentator puts it, the real worrisome outcome for the Prayut government is the city assembly result. In the gubernatorial election, there are a lot of “what ifs” and numbers to play around with. Less arguable is the city assembly dominance of Pheu Thai and Move Forward.

Obviously, an ideological fight played a big role in both gubernatorial and city assembly elections. That can be a shame especially in the gubernatorial context but Chadchart, despite generating political controversies, carries impressive records for technical expertise as well. He had been widely expected to win, but the manner in which he won it was remarkable all the same.

His links with Pheu Thai have been solid. He was even dubbed the party’s “decorative flower” once after being named in a list of Pheu Thai’s prime ministerial candidates. However, support from the Shinawatras seemed to make him uneasy, as suggested his attempts to break free.

Chadchart must have been closely watching when a former Pheu Thai Bangkok gubernatorial candidate, Pongsapat Pongcharoen, lost to much-maligned Sukhumbhand Paribatra in the most unexpected manner in 2013. National politics was said to play a big part at that time.

Did it this time? Did Chadchart owe the landslide to a projected independent image that won the hearts of politically exhausted Bangkokians, or was he somehow propelled by Pheu Thai connections and politically active yet fickle Bangkokians?

A possible answer is both.

by Tulsathit Taptim