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The gubernatorial election in Bangkok is a test of the political winds

Voters in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, went to the polls on Sunday to choose a new governor in a contest whose results are likely to be seen as a barometer of sentiment ahead of the upcoming general election.

A record 31 candidates entered the race, but the fight most closely watched is between two who have registered as independents: former Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt, who opinion polls have identified as a strong front-runner, and Asawin Kwanmuang, who served as such the appointed governor since 2016 until March of this year, when he resigned to contest the race.

The candidates championed local issues, including congestion, pollution and ongoing flooding. The city, the largest in the country, has 4.4 million registered voters. The last gubernatorial election was in 2013.

Neither the main opposition party in parliament, Pheu Thai, nor the ruling party Palang Pracharath have candidates on the ballot.

However, the 55-year-old Chadchart, the charismatic independent frontrunner, is seen by both supporters and opponents as a proxy for Pheu Thai, for which he ran as prime ministerial candidate in the 2019 general election. From 2012 to 2014 he was transport minister in a Pheu Thai government.

His main rival is 71-year-old Asawin, who was appointed governor by Prayut Chan-ocha in 2016. As army commander, Prayuth seized power in a 2014 coup to lead a military regime and sacked the previous governor on corruption charges. Prayut was restored to power after the 2019 election as prime minister in a coalition government led by the pro-military Palang Pracharath.

Like Chadchart, former senior constable Asawin is running as an independent, although he is very strongly viewed as a government candidate, as deputy for Palang Pracharath. Polls have generally placed him second.

Suchatvee Suwansawat, 50, is running for the Democratic Party and stands an outsider chance if Conservative voters as a bloc back him instead of Asawin. Democrats have historically been a power in Bangkok but have suffered badly over the past two decades of polarized politics that has seen street violence and two coups.

Prime Minister Prayut has been in power for eight years. He is expected to soon face a motion of no confidence in Parliament and rivals on his own side have long been rumored to be trying to unseat him. Even if he survives, parliamentary elections must be held early next year.

Prayut could rule by decree as head of a military government but has struggled within the confines of parliamentary democracy and caught fire, particularly for tinkering with Thailand’s coronavirus vaccination program and recovery plan.

A fourth candidate whose results are being closely monitored is Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn of the opposition Move Forward Party. His progressive party is more critical of the government than Pheu Thai, but could siphon votes from Chadchart in favor of Asawin for that reason.

Political science professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University noted that this will be the first significant election since the 2014 coup.

“People want to have a say,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “The result, if it clearly goes against the ruling Palang Pracharat, would be consequential for Parliament, Prayut and distrust.”

Administratively, Bangkok is both a province and a city, and the only one where residents can elect their own governor, who is appointed elsewhere by the country’s Ministry of Interior.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/ap-bangkok-thailand-parliament-pheu-thai-b2084513.html The gubernatorial election in Bangkok is a test of the political winds

Bobby Allyn

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