BANGKOK — The official who oversaw the daring operation that saved 13 young footballers and their coach from a cave a year ago has rejected rumors that he will enter the capital’s gubernatorial race.
Phayao governor Narongsak Osatanakorn – whose role in the rescue propelled him to nationwide fame – told the media on Sunday he has yet to make any decision on the matter, despite a pro-junta party official saying Phalang Pracharath Party is ready to nominate Narongsak as its candidate in the upcoming race.
Narongsak declined to comment on Bangkok’s governor election, which will likely take place in late 2019. The incumbent Bangkok governor is set to retire in September due to his age.
The news first surfaced when Phalang Pracharath official Udorn Sornsan said last week his party will send Narongsak as its contender against Pheu Thai’s candidate, widely believed to be popular former transport minister Chadchart Sitthipunt.
The alleged nomination generated considerable excitement on social media. Both Narongsak and Chadchart have massive followings online – Narongsak due to his role in the world-renowned rescue effort at Luang Cave in July 2018, while Chadchart has been praised for proposals during previous cabinet tenures to modernize Thailand’s infrastructure.
But speaking in a media interview yesterday, Phalang Pracharath deputy chairman Natthapol Teepsuwan said the news is just speculation on Udorn’s part, with the party leadership still undecided on the issue.
In the interview with Spring News, Natthapol said he believes Narongsak is a “talented person,” but added that the current Phayao governor is not a member of any political party.
A junta-appointed governor has been overseeing Bangkok since the city’s last elected governor was removed in a special order by the junta in 2016 citing corruption allegations.
Narongsak served as the governor of Chiang Rai until his abrupt transfer to the less prominent province of Phayao in April 2018. Although transparency critics suspect Narongsak was transferred because he refused to sign off questionable government projects, the authorities maintained his move was routine.
Despite his transfer, the government allowed Narongsak to head the operation in Chiang Rai to free 13 young footballers and their coach from a cave there in June that year, until the mission was completed two weeks later.