There is no escaping toxic politics in Thailand. The much-anticipated Bangkok gubernatorial elections is no exception.
Days before the Democrat Party’s candidate was formally introduced and given a chance to speak and lay down his policies, the man was already being viciously attacked simply because he had decided to represent the party in the race. People who hate the Democrat Party found a new target to hurl their political hatred towards the party which they consider a ‘reliable’ cannon fodder for one military coup after another, including the latest one in 2014. To them the name Democrat Party is an oxymoron.
This may have taken the candidate, Suchatchavee Suwansawat, a high-profile university chief who resigned as rector of King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, to run under the Democrat Party banner by surprise.
Suchatchavee debuted his Democrat-backed campaign on Monday, days after the news leaked that he will represent the party, which is currently a coalition-party, was made. The attacks were relentless and by Thursday, the MIT-educated former engineering professor sought to keep some distance from the very party which endorsed him just days ago by saying his gubernatorial team is not a Democrat team but a team for the future of Bangkok – whatever that means.
Gubernatorial politics on the other side of the political divide is equally toxic. On Tuesday, the main opposition Pheu Thai Party announced it will not field in any candidate for City Hall, leaving Chadchart Sittipint to run as an ‘independent’ candidate despite the fact that Chadchart was a former transport minister under the Pheu Thai-led government of then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra before the 2014 coup.
A widely-made interpretation of the move is that the party wanted to spare Chadchart from the anti-Pheu Thai as well as anti-Thaksin/Yingluck hatred. It’s unclear how successful Chadchart would be in shaking off the image of him being part of the party but my hunch is that those who hate Pheu Thai, hate Thaksin and Yingluck, will definitely not vote for Chadchart no matter how qualified he may be for the job. The same can be said of Suchatchavee. Some, including those who praised Suchatchavee as an able administrator, have expressed their dismay on on social media upon learning that the former rector has decided to run under the Democrat Party banner. BTW, Chadchart himself said in November that he decided to run as an independent because “people are fed up with [political] conflicts”. That was Nov 2019, by the way, and little has changed.
The political party that one is affiliated with, or perceived to be affiliated with, will determine whether the person will get the votes from a good number of voters or not.
The other major opposition party, Move Forward, also found itself in hot water from Pheu Thai supporters over the past few days since it announced earlier this week that it will go ahead and field a candidate – to be announced in January. Many Pheu Thai supporters accuse Move Forward of being “selfish” because another candidate from the opposition camp will definitely divide the votes that would otherwise go to Chadchart. A senior source from the Move Forward camp told me on Wednesday that this is simply how democracy works.
Even if one doesn’t identify oneself with either the Democrat, Pheu Thai or Move Forward, toxic politics and the past politics will haunt you.
Former senator Rosana Tositrakul is another visible and credible ‘independent’ candidate for Bangkok City Hall. Rosana is also like a durian, however. You either like her and will consider voting for her because of your political stance or you will hate her and definitely not vote for her for her past political deeds. Rosana was among key members of the anti-Thaksin-Yingluck pro-coup People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). It doesn’t matter how qualified she may be, how good her policies may be – for many it will be the toxic politics that will dictate whether some Bangkokians will vote for her come mid 2022 or not.