11 July 2024

The opposition Move Forward Party has finally come up with a candidate for the Bangkok gubernatorial election expected in the next few months. For many party supporters, Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn is the party’s best choice, but others had hoped for a stronger candidate and a bigger name.

An online PR onslaught over the past weeks culminated in Move Forward unveiling Wiroj as its candidate during an event at party headquarters on Sunday (Jan 23) evening.

Wiroj, a debutant MP and the party’s spokesman presented himself as a governor hopeful who is ready for a “head-on collision” with any serious issue that is harming the city and its residents.

The outspoken politician pinpointed bribery and corruption, claiming it is responsible for draining 15 percent of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)’s Bt100-billion annual budget.

‘Ready for head-on attack’

“Residents know well that ‘Bangkok bribes’ exist. This parasite is undermining the future of Bangkok residents. If we get rid of bribery, the city will automatically be better off in many ways,” Wiroj said.

If elected, he promised to work with honest BMA officials in “steering the city towards a better direction”. He added that more than 90 percent of Bangkok are honest.

Wiroj, 44, said the next governor must stop favoring state agencies over the interests of Bangkok residents, or “you can’t push your policy, no matter how excellent it is, and Bangkok’s problems will never be solved”.

Sunday’s event portrayed Wiroj as a determined candidate ready to attack Bangkok problems head-on, echoing Move Forward’s campaign slogan: “Time is over for sweeping problems under the carpet. It’s time to vote for a governor ready to ram through for Bangkokians.”

Introducing Wiroj as the party’s Bangkok hopeful, Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat said no other potential candidate had “the party DNA” like him.

However, observers say Move Forward failed to attract an outsider with stronger credentials due to its controversial liberal standpoint.

Move Forward party unveils its candidate for Bangkok gubernatorial election

‘No surprise at all’

“The party was perhaps unable to find someone better and more prominent who was brave enough to contest under the banner of a party that is clashing with the [monarchy] institution and could be disbanded at any time,” said Yingcheep Atchanont, program manager of the Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw).

He acknowledged that Wiroj is a capable politician but said his debating skills were better suited to Parliament’s opposition benches.

For Yingcheep, Move Forward’s prominent campaign trailing its mystery gubernatorial candidate led to high expectations among party supporters.

“In the end, there was no surprise at all. People said, ‘Aw, nothing much’.”

Wiroj seems to have adopted an emotional campaign style to tap into voters’ feelings of frustration and hardship, said Assoc Prof Attasit Pankaew of Thammasat University’s Political Science Faculty.

But Wiroj insists this is “realistic campaigning” that presents facts as they are and offers realistic solutions – not “negative campaigning”, as described by critics.

“I want to show what a Move Forward government would look like,” he said on Monday. “My aim is to prove how good I can be at running an administration with an [annual] budget of Bt100 billion.”

Engineering trio

Wiroj is one of the three Bangkok governor hopefuls who graduated in engineering — the others being independent candidate Chadchart Sittipunt and the Democrat Party’s Suchatvee Suwansawat.

Born on December 11, 1977, Wiroj graduated with a bachelor’s degree in automotive engineering and a master’s in business administration from Chulalongkorn University. He received his doctorate in economics from the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA).

He began his career as an engineer at a car company before moving on to take up executive roles at other firms, including SE-ED Book Center.

In October 2018, Wiroj co-founded the Future Forward Party with business tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and academic Piyabutr Saengkanokkul. After the party was disbanded by court order in February 2020 for illegal party donations, Wiroj and its other MPs, including Pita, reunited in the Move Forward Party.

While serving as an opposition lawmaker, Wiroj campaigned relentlessly for full disclosure of the government’s vaccine procurement contracts, insisting that transparency is vital in the fight against COVID-19.

Using debating skills he honed during his university days, he quickly became a star among the opposition ranks. The first-term MP took the floor during House debates to make a string of allegations against the government and state agencies.

During the February 2020 censure debate against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Wiroj accused the government of funding military intelligence “information operations” (IO) against political opponents.

The MP uses social media, particularly Twitter, to keep in touch with his supporters and attack the government. However, his opponents have questioned the credibility of some of his information, branding it “fake news”.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk