BANGKOK (AP) — In Thailand’s capital Bangkok, voters head to the polling station to elect a new governor, a barometer of public sentiment ahead of Sunday’s general election.
Although 31 candidates participated in the primary, a record number of candidates, the ones that are attracting the most attention are the former Transport Minister Chadchart Sitpunt, who registered as an independent, and the former Transport Minister Chadchart Sitpunt and Asawin Kwanmuang, who were identified as strong leaders in the opinion poll. It’s a minister’s fight. The governor, appointed in 2016, until his resignation in March of this year for the primary.
Candidates campaigned on local issues, including congestion, pollution and constant flooding. The largest city in the country has 4.4 million registered voters. The last gubernatorial election was in 2013.
Both the parliament’s main opposition party, Pheu Thai, and the ruling party, Palang Pracharath, have no candidates on their ballots.
But the charismatic independent frontrunner, 55-year-old Chadchart, is seen by supporters and opponents alike as the representative of Pheu Thai, who is running for prime minister in the 2019 general election. From 2012-2014, he served as Minister of Transport in Putayi Government.
His main competitor is Asawin, 71, who was appointed governor by Prayuth Chan-ocha in 2016. As military commander, Prayut seized power in a 2014 coup and led a military regime, sacking the former governor on charges of corruption. Prayut returned as prime minister in a coalition government led by the pro-military Palang Pracharat after the 2019 elections.
Like Chadchart, Asawin, a former senior police officer, stands as an independent but is best known as a government candidate who is a supporter of Palang Pracharath. Polls generally put him in second place.
50-year-old Suchatvee Suwansawat is running for the Democratic nomination, and as a bloc instead of Asawin, there appears to be an outside opportunity if conservative voters support him as a bloc. Democrats have historically come to power in Bangkok, but over the past two decades, polarized politics have been deeply divided, with street violence and two coups.
It has been 8 years since Prime Minister Frayut took office. He is expected to face a no-confidence bill in Congress soon, and his rivals have long been rumored to fire him. Even if he survives, there should be a general election by early next year.
Prayut, as head of the military, was able to rule by decree, but struggled within the limits of parliamentary democracy, particularly criticizing Thailand’s coronavirus vaccine program and recovery plans for messing around.
A fourth candidate to watch closely is Wiroj Lakkanaadisorn of the opposition Move Forward Party. His progressive party is more critical of the government than Pheu Thai, but for that reason could divert the votes from Chadchart’s full vote to Asawin’s interest.
Titinan Pongsudirak, a political science professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said the election would be the first major election since the 2014 coup.
“People want to have a say,” he said in an email to the Associated Press. “If the outcome is clearly against Palang Pracharat’s rule, it will affect the parliament, prayut and distrust.”
Bangkok is an administrative province and city, and is the only place where residents can choose their own governor, appointed elsewhere by the National Interior Ministry.