The poll on Sunday now makes the new voting laws due to be passed by parliament over the coming weeks even more urgent as it becomes clear that the path to power for the opposition parties may be open given the poor showing of the ruling Palang Pracharat Party which follows several electoral disappointments since the start of the year.
Thailand’s former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, has called on both the Prime Minister General Prayut Chan ocha and the country’s Interior Minister General Anupong Paochinda to consider their positions in the light of Sunday’s polls in Bangkok which saw former Pheu Thai Party minister in the government of his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, Chadchart Sittipunt, win a landslide victory to become governor and at the same time saw the ruling Palang Pracharat Party gain only 2 seats out of the 50 on the city’s council with both opposition parties Pheu Thai and Move Forward gaining 34 seats between them.
The landslide election win by former Pheu Thai Party minister Chadchart Sittipunt in Sunday’s election for the governorship of Bangkok and significant gains for both opposition parties on the city’s council are extremely bad news for the ruling Palang Pracharat Party although political science experts and academics are being cautious in suggesting the polls spell the end of the premiership of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and his ruling coalition in the next election.
The result, on Sunday, saw Mr Chadchart Sittipunt with 51.8% of the vote or 1,386,215 votes from 2,673,696 voters who cast their ballot according to official tallies from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration in what has been acknowledged as an ideal election and a model for future polls.
Bangkok’s governor plays the same role as Thailand’s 76 other governors except he is elected and acts for a large and growing metropolis of nearly 15 million
The election of a governor in Bangkok was first introduced in the 1970s.
The role is the same as the governorship of each of Thailand’s provinces of which there are 76 with Bangkok being a special administrative area or effectively the 77th province.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is the extended metropolis of Bangkok which includes 50 districts and has a population of 14.65 million or 21% of Thailand’s population of 69.8 million as per the 2020 census.
The city itself has a population of 10.54 million.
The governor is subordinate to the central government meaning the Thai cabinet and the prime minister.
Since 1973, nine out of seventeen governors have been appointed directly by the government with elections for governors suspended in both 1977 and 2016.
Sunday’s poll was the tenth poll for the governorship with two governors winning dual terms in the last fifty years.
Council seat tally shows the opposition parties enjoying widespread support in the capital with 34 seats, the ruling Palang Pracharat Party only bagged 2
The victory for Mr Chadchart has been seen as a signal that support for the opposition is on the rise in the capital given his links to the main opposition Pheu Thai Party.
He served as Minister of Transport under the government of Yingluck Shinawatra which was installed in a landslide victory in the 2011 General Election.
Indeed, Mr Chadchart was a minister on the 22nd of May 2014 when he was ousted from his position by the coup that day led by General Prayut and other members of the current cabinet.
This interpretation is strengthened further by looking at the results of the poll for the 50 council seats on the council responsible for oversight of the Bangkok metropolis which saw the Pheu Thai Party taking 20 seats while the more radical Move Forward Party achieved 14 seats in an area which is seen as a stronghold for the party which traces its roots back to the dissolved Future Forward Party which came from nowhere in the 2019 General Election to win 17.34% of the vote in urban areas.
One of the most telling facts in Sunday’s poll was the disappointing performance of the ruling Palang Pracharat Party which managed to win only 2 seats in the Thai capital where it had previously won 12 seats out of 30 in the 2019 House of Representatives poll or General Election.
No surprise considering the opinion polls and results of elections in Bangkok and the South of Thailand
But this should not come as a surprise.
The opinion polls have, consistently this year, shown the party languishing behind the opposition.
A by-election in Bangkok at the end of January, in Constituency 9, a former Palang Pracharat Party seat, was won by the Pheu Thai Party with the Move Forward Party putting in a strong showing also.
This coincides with what we saw this Sunday.
The other key development in Sunday’s election was a stronger than expected performance for the Democrat Party despite a sex scandal swirling around the party’s former Director of Elections in the city, Prinn Panitchpakdi,
He was arrested on indecency charges and now faces scores of accusations from women who are still coming forward.
Experts cautious to interpret what the results mean and point to the results of the Pattaya election
Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the polls, most political experts are ambiguous about what the outcome means.
Tavida Kamolvej is the Dean of the Faculty of Political Science at Thammasat University.
She says that Sunday’s results certainly show the opposition parties are now dominant in the capital, and have gained since 2019, but that this does not automatically mean that there will be a Pheu Thai Party landslide nationally in the next election.
She points to Pattaya, the favourite holiday resort for foreigners, where a patronage system has seen a former mayor of the city Sonthaya Kunplome, deny efforts by the Move Forward Party to secure the key position as a sign of how things may work elsewhere in Thailand in the forthcoming national poll.
‘The Bangkok results reflect between 20% to 30% of the political sentiment in major cities. The result of Pattaya’s mayoral and council elections should reveal the overall outcome of the national contest,’ she explained on Monday while being interviewed for the Bangkok Post.
Main opposition Pheu Thai Party certainly on course for more seats in Bangkok in the General Election
This was similar to the understanding of Mr Olarn Thinbangtiew of Burapha University who said that that election was a glimpse of what the polls and elections will be like in other key population centres around Thailand such as Udon Tani, Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai and Surat Thani.
He conceded that the result certainly means that the Pheu Thai Party is on course to win more seats in Bangkok in the next General Election which will be held within the year.
Mr Olarn predicted that the result may prompt the government to try to prolong its tenure with reports, in the last few months, that the Prime Minister may call a snap election after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November.
The government is also facing what will be a series of efforts to unseat it in July when a Pheu Thai Party sponsored motion of no confidence is expected to be laid before the House of Representatives.
Voting law due in parliament is critical to the opposition’s chances of unseating the government
A new voting law is due to be presented to parliament which includes provision for a dual ballot process and a plan to subdivide the party-list votes for each party by the 100 seats available in the next election.
This new ballot system, if passed into law, will favour large parties.
The revised election procedures will benefit Pheu Thai but, going by recent polls in Bangkok, it may be of little comfort to the ruling Palang Pracharat Party who are clearly out of favour with the urban public and may now be more dependent on individual candidates, political affiliations and Thailand’s regional political patronage system.
Omens in 2022 are not good for Palang Pracharat
This now means that the passage of the new voting system bills takes on an even greater significance.
They were due to be presented to parliament on May 24th.
Democrat Party victories in the South are seen as a vote for stability despite vote-buying claims by Ratchaburi MP
Even in the South, thought to be a stronghold for the Palang Pracharat Party, the omens in 2022 have not been good with the ruling party losing two by-elections which it fought assiduously in Songkhla and Chumphon provinces in mid-January only to be defeated by the Democrat Party.
Indeed, on Saturday, the Palang Pracharat Party lost a seat in the House of Representatives when the Democrat Party won the seat made vacant after the controversial MP for Ratchaburi province, in central Thailand, Pareena Kraikupt, lost her seat after being removed by the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders.
The four-time MP was found guilty of severe ethical misconduct over a land encroachment scandal.
She was also banned from politics for life after a 17-year career.
Democrat Party leader Jurin welcomes results of the poll in which his party exceeded expectations
On Monday, Democrat Party leader Jurin Laksanawisit welcomed the outcome of the Bangkok poll which saw the party’s candidate, ex Rector of the King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, Suchatvee Suwansawat come second with 254,647 votes or 9.52%.
The turnout in the election was a healthy 60.73%.
‘Our governor candidate came second and the party won nine seats on the city council, these are positive signs. We are thankful for the support,’ Mr Jurin said.
Prime Minister congratulates newly elected Bangkok governor but insists Bangkok is just another province
Initially, both Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, the leader of the Palang Pracharat Party, congratulated the new Bangkok governor Mr Chadchart.
General Prayut promised his full support in the role while General Prawit told reporters that the Palang Pracharat Party will have to make a full assessment of Sunday’s outcome.
As in Ratchaburi on Saturday, the Palang Pracharat Party did not field a candidate in the governor’s race but the party’s tally of council seats at 2 augurs a bleak future for it in Bangkok.
General Prayut later insisted that the outcome of the poll in the capital did not reflect his popularity nationwide and also insisted to reporters that Bangkok is still only one province.
‘It is only an election in one province,’ he declared. ‘The results showed the desire of voters in Bangkok. That is not related to the government.’
Thaksin highlights strategic voting by the electorate
Meanwhile, there was a sharp contrast of views when ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra gave his interpretation of the poll results in an interview with Bangkok boutique news website The Room 44.
The former prime minister who decisively won two general elections back to back in 2001 and 2005 said that the poll showed the electorate in Bangkok voting strategically with supporters of the Move Forward Party lending their vote to elect the former Pheu Thai Party minister to the position while independents also supported Mr Chadchart.
Mr Thaksin fled Thailand after the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.
This was before he was convicted by the Supreme Court on a corruption case linked with the sale of land. He currently faces a jail term if he returns to the kingdom.
He had earlier gone into exile after his second government was ousted in the 2006 military coup but returned briefly to fight charges raised against him by prosecutors.
Ex-Premier emphatic about the meaning of Sunday’s poll calling on General Prayut and General Anupong Paochinda to consider their positions and resign
Mr Thaksin indicated that the election result on Sunday shows that the opposition led by the Pheu Thai Party was on its way back to government in the General Election which is due to be called shortly.
He used the interview to call on both General Prayut Chan ocha and Minister of the Interior General Anupong Paochinda to consider their positions.
Mr Thaksin said, on Monday, that both ministers should step down ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in November based on the results of Sunday’s poll.
Both were key players in the 2014 coup which ousted the government formed in 2011 by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra in which the new Bangkok Governor-elect Chadchart Sittipunt played a cabinet role.
They are senior figures in the current government but not allied with any political party.
Although General Prayut Chan ocha is the nominee for Prime Minister of the Palang Pracharat Party, he is not a party member.
Thaksin coy about any possible return to Thailand but is delighted with his daughter’s political role
The two key figures in this government are former high ranking generals who held the position of commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army and are considered, along with General Prawit Wongsuwan, another former army chief, to still be the power behind the current administration holding their positions continuously since the 2014 coup ushered them into office although all three were reappointed after the General Election in 2019 when a government was formed under the terms of the 2017 Constitution.
The former premier, living in exile in Dubai, remained coy about commenting on his potential return to Thailand only saying that he would do it when the time was right.
He was also vague about any possible amnesty law for politicians convicted of crimes after taking office which would be needed to allow his return.
‘Let the government and the military talk this over and decide,’ he told his interviewer before going on to express his delight at how his daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra has taken to national politics.
35-year-old Ms Paetongtarn also known as ‘Ung Ing’ is widely tipped to be the flag bearer for the political dynasty in the next election and the Pheu Thai nominee for prime minister.