Following the stunning victory on Sunday night by gubernatorial candidate Chadchart Sittipunt, who carried all of Bangkok’s 50 districts in a record-breaking sweep, many observers spent Monday speculating what the phenomenon would mean for Thai politics on the national level.
Chadchart Sittipunt poses for photos with his supporters on 31 March 2022.
With a landslide win of 1.3 million votes, or 52 percent of all ballots, Chadchart is the first candidate outside the conservative and pro-establishment circles to have won the Governor’s race in almost 30 years. The City Councilors election, taking place on the same day, also concluded in most of the seats going to the opposition parties.
The dramatic flip led pundits and analysts to wonder whether the phenomenon is heralding a new political shift in the capital, which has been the base for pro-military and conservative factions for decades. Was it also a symbolic no-confidence verdict on the government of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, who came to power through a military coup 8 years ago?
PM Prayut himself did not think so. Answering reporters’ questions at Government House, he downplayed the results and their implications. He also noted that the ruling party, Phalang Pracharath, did not contest the gubernatorial election against Chadchart.
“It’s just like any election. It’s just an election that took place in one province,” Prayut said. “It doesn’t reflect anything. It doesn’t reflect anything about me either … it’s nothing to do with the government.”
A reporter then pointed out to Prayut that Palang Pracharat did contest in the City Councilors race, and only secured 2 out of the 50 seats. A combined majority of 34 seats went to Pheu Thai and Move Forward, the two leading oppositions.
“And? Did the people not vote for them?” Prayut replied, referring to the two successful Phalang Pracharath candidates. “Did the people vote for them or not? It depends on whether people voted for them or not. It’s up to the people. Now we have to see, will these people who get elected do anything better? Well, I hope they will.”
Chadchart Sittipunt tours a canal with his erstwhile rival Wirot Lakkhana-Adisorn from the Move Forward Party on 23 May 2022.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, however, acknowledged that there was a lesson to be learned.
“We’ll have to think it over, whether we’ve failed in our work,” Gen. Prawit said of the poor showing at the City Councilors election. “We’ll have to fix it.”
Others are adamant that the political reality has turned against Prayut, who’s been in power since the 2014 coup, which toppled the civilian government Chadchart served as transport minister.
The most unequivocal of the critics was perhaps former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the de facto leader of the Pheu Thai Party. He called Chadchart’s victory “a landslide for democracy.”
“People have decided to choose the pro-democracy camps to solve their problems, because they [the pro-democracy faction] understand their problems better,” Thaksin said in an interview to BBC Thai. “Today we’ve seen clear results. City Councilors belonging to Pheu Thai and Move Forward make up more than half of the seats, and Chadchart single handedly won the side who supports the military by a large margin.
“When you combine all of these factors, it's clear: they want those in the current administration to know that the people are not happy.”
Chadchart Sittipunt shakes hands with his erstwhile rival Wirot Lakkhana-Adisorn from the Move Forward Party on 23 May 2022.
Chulalongkorn University sociology lecturer Amorn Wanichwiwatana said both the gubernatorial and City Councilors election results should serve as a “warning sign” to the government to rethink its strategies in building its voter base in the capital.
With the majority of City Councilors in their hands, the opposition parties could use these as assets to foster closer relations with local residents in each district, which may prove to be crucial in the next election, Amorn told Thairath news website. For Chadchart, it would likely mean the Governor won’t have too much resistance to push for projects, especially ones that require large spending.
“But there’s also another angle to this. There is a political theory that parties affiliated with the government rarely won the votes in the capital city, because the people want to have a balance of power,” Amorn said.
The last gubernatorial election in 2013 was won by Sukhumbhand Paribatra, a candidate from the Democrat Party, who was the opposition at the time.
Amorn went on to speculate that a new order at the City Hall might spell trouble for the previous Governor, Aswin Kwanmuang, since the oppositions may file investigations or legal action against Aswin for some questionable projects or spending initiated during his administration.
Thammasat University academic Anusorn Tamajai also wrote in a commentary to Prachatai that the oppositions’ dual victory at Sunday’s polls is an incontrovertible proof that many Bangkokians are unhappy with the administration and its allies.
“The network of far-right conservatives and factions hostile to democracy have weakened, and they are not popular among the new generations,” Anusorn wrote. “At the same time, the progressive and liberal factions, along with commitment to democratic ideals, have clearly become stronger.”
Vote counting takes place at a polling station in Bangkok on 22 May 2022.
Anusorn said the anniversary of the coup, which coincided with the election day, was not lost on many voters.
“It clearly reflects that a coup is not an answer or solution to any crisis, and it did not make the situations develop in a better or sustainable direction in the long term.”
However, an opinion column on Bangkok Biz News newspaper argues that the results from Sunday’s polls aren’t all good news for the opposition. For one thing, the article notes, Chadchart ran as an independent, not as a candidate for Pheu Thai, which allowed him to craft a neutral image to draw bipartisan support – a feat that may not be replicated in the general elections.
An alliance between Pheu Thai and Move Forward will also be more difficult to establish in the national elections, says the columnist ‘Homrong,’ since both parties share many similar portions of voter bases.
The Democrat Party also proved to be more resilient than many had expected, the article says, pointing to a strong showing by Democrat gubernatorial candidate Suchatchavee Suwansawas, who placed second behind Chadchart, and the nine City Councilors seats won by the Democrats.
“The party managed to maintain a considerable voter base despite many publicity nightmares,” the article said.
Homrong concludes the analysis by suggesting that Chadchart’s overwhelming victory is perhaps owed to the sense of exhaustion and disappointment felt by many Bangkokians toward Prayut’s regime. The satisfaction of shoving a finger to the administration’s face may prove to be temporary, the article warns.
“The results of this election may help many people feel vindicated, especially the factions who oppose the government. But once the sense of vindication has passed, then we’ll get to experience the reality of life, because none of Bangkok’s problems can be easily solved.”