Former transport minister wins first Bangkok governor election in 9 years

Subel Rai Bhandari
2022.05.23
Bangkok
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Former transport minister wins first Bangkok governor election in 9 years Chadchart Sittipunt, the likely winning candidate in the Bangkok governor election, rides a bike to cast his ballot at a polling station near his home in Bangkok, May 22, 2022.
Suntorn Chongcharoen/BenarNews

A former minister from a Thai government ousted in a 2014 military coup won Bangkok’s first gubernatorial election in nearly a decade by a landslide, while the incumbent who had been appointed by the junta finished fifth, according to uncertified results Monday.

Some observers said this was a sign of the waning popularity of the military-linked national government, which has been in power for the past eight years.

Independent candidate Chadchart Sittipunt, 56, received 1.38 million votes compared with about 250,000 each for his two closest rivals. While the two conceded defeat on Sunday night, the Bangkok Election Commission could take days or even weeks to announce official results. Chadchart is to take office within 30 days of any challenges being cleared.

“Now that we’ve received an order from the people, I would start working right away, visiting communities and areas to see where I could begin my work as soon as I can as governor,” Chadchart told reporters on Monday, adding he has “a young, energetic team keen to start.

“I have no bind with any big parties. I can work with any government.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the former army chief who led the 2014 coup, affirmed that his administration “is ready to work together with Chadchart and his team,” government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said Monday, confirming the outcome.

“Whatever is good for Bangkokians, the government is ready to provide support.”

Aswin Kwanmuang, a retired police general appointed in 2016 as governor of the Thai capital by then-junta chief Prayuth, finished fifth, receiving a little more than 214,000 about 8 percent of the votes.

Bangkok officials said voter turnout was 61 percent in the first major election since the coronavirus pandemic and 2020 street protests led by young Thais demanding changes to the constitution, for Prayuth to resign and for the monarchy to be reformed.

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Voters line up to cast their ballots at a polling station in Bangkok, May 22, 2022. [Pimuk Rakkanam/BenarNews]

The capital city region is the only one in Thailand where people can directly vote for the governor. Sunday’s vote was the first gubernatorial election since 2013 and fell on the eighth anniversary of the military seizing power from the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

Chadchart, who served as transport minister in Yingluck’s government, remembered the coup on Sunday evening, recounting how he was handcuffed and hooded and taken to a secret location by Thai soldiers.

Though an independent, Chadchart represents opponents of the current government. He was once a leader of the Pheu Thai Party, the main opposition party in the parliament.

“The victory was not unexpected, but Chadchart also broke a few records,” Nuttakorn Vititanon, a political analyst and lecturer at Rajabhat Chiang Mai University, told BenarNews. 

“No one had anticipated that he would have been winning in all 50 Bangkok constituencies, with over 50 percent of votes from each of them … leaving the runners-up in the dust with more than a million vote margin.” 

Bangkok resident Nongluk Sukjai, 51, said she voted for Chadchart. 

“This is a new, pleasant face we have never had from the previous policymakers who lust for power,” she told BenarNews. “This is a new culture of leading with teamwork and participation that is not dictatorial.”

Council results

Looking at the 50-member council election that drew 382 candidates, the ruling Palang Pracharat Party and its coalition member Democrat Party have “regressed,” analyst Nuttakorn said Monday.

The opposition Pheu Thai Party won 20 seats and their allies in the Future Forward Party won 14 compared with nine for the Democrats and two for Palang Pracharat.

Jade Donavanik, a former adviser to the Constitution Drafting Committee, said the results of the governor and city council elections indicated that voters were frustrated with the previous governor as well as Prayuth’s administration.

“The results may also reflect the future outcome of the general election and shift the balance of power in politics,” Jade told the Bangkok Post.

Prayuth, meanwhile, said the results would not influence his decision regarding the next general election, expected in 2023.

The retired army chief who has been in power as prime minister since he led the 2014 coup and was elected by parliament following a 2019 election, has been dogged by allegations of corruption, economic mismanagement and a bungled response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Bangkok is just a province in Thailand. ... [The election] reflects nothing on me,” Prayuth told reporters in Bangkok.

Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok and Kunnawut Boonreak in Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributed to this report.

 

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