Eight years of pent-up aspiration for true democracy turned into Chadchart Sittipunt mania after the former Transport Minister was elected the new Bangkok governor last Sunday.
People, particularly the 1.3 million Bangkokians who voted for Chadchart, voted for change, a clear snub to his poor-performing rival, former junta-appointed Bangkok governor Asawin Kwanmuang who received only 204,089 votes and finished at fifth place.
While it is not Chadchart or the voters’ fault, the landslide victory also beckoned the conservative pro-junta camp to reconsider yet another military coup, particularly if it looks imminent that the national elections will go the way of the local Bangkok elections.
If Chadchart’s victory was not painful enough, the fact that the ruling Phalang Pracharath Party managed to gain only two out of 50 city council member seats speaks volume as to how Bangkokians have given thumbs down to Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, the man who staged the 2014 military coup eight years ago. (Nearly two third of the council seats went to the two opposition parties, Pheu Thai and Move Forward, respectively.)
It will be crucial for Chadchart to demonstrate that he can work with others across the aisle, heal the political divide which is toxic, in Bangkok and beyond. The hopes pinned on him thus reverberate far beyond local Bangkok politics and administration. Those who voted for him feel that now an elected politician, albeit local but very high profile, can put Thai politics on track toward a path less toxic and divisive with this huge mandate.
For Bangkokians who did not vote for Chadchart, your disappointment is understandable. The people have spoken, however, and Bangkok voters have overwhelmingly chosen Chadchart. The fact that his closest rival, Democrat Party candidate Suchatchavee Suwansawas received only 240,884, or less than a fifth of Chadchart’s votes, means we all should give Chadchart a chance to prove himself.
Voters who did not choose Chadchart will have to be a good sport, open minded, and give the new governor a chance to solve the numerous problems and make the capital city a better place for all. This is not a time to start undermining Chadchart, who has yet to even be officially certified by the Election Commission. (The commission said the process will take at least 30 days.)
This is a time for those who did not vote for Chadchart to give not just Bangkok, but national politics a chance – a chance to move away from toxic politics which culminated in the 2014 coup and has since paralyzed any meaningful cooperation among those of different political poles and deepened political hatred for a decade if not more.
Give Chadchart a year, then assess and judge him accordingly, give him the cooperation – for Bangkok is bigger than each of us and deserved to become a far greener, safer, and livable metropolis for all, rich and poor.
As for Chadchart, he must be acutely aware that there is so many expectations on his shoulders. With so many promises and expectations, Chadchart will have to prove that he is not just another PR man who delivered empty promises, or a proxy of the Pheu Thai Party or Thaksin Shinawatra as branded by his opponents.
He must introduce a new kind of politics not based on nepotism, but cooperation with all sides. (Asawin, appointed his son as City Hall spokesman, BTW.) On Friday, Chadchart met with the newly elected Democrat Party city council member for Samphanthawong district and that was a good sign.
A success by Chadchart in the months and years ahead will give hope to not just Bangkok but Thailand as a whole. If Chadchart fails in the months ahead to make Bangkok better and break the political divide, Bangkok and Thailand will sink even deeper into despair that democracy cannot deliver – at a rate quicker than the rate of land subsidence that Bangkok is experiencing.