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Ruling party's loss a blow for Thaksin
Publication Date : 04-03-2013
If any candidate from former premier Thaksin Shinawatra's camp could ever win a Bangkok gubernatorial election, the one who had the most chance was probably Pol Gen Pongsapat Pongcharoen, especially considering poll results over the past month showing his popularity on the rise constantly.
Political "freshness" and his social assets - reputation and support - made many Bangkokians consider him their choice.
He did better than many others backed by Thaksin - Yuranan Pamornmontree (who got 611,699 votes), Prapat Chongsanguan (543,488 votes), Pavena Hongsakula (619,039) and Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan (521,184 votes) - who contested previous elections while their arch-rivals the Democrats have held the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's top post over the past nine years.
Pongsapat set a record for the number of votes won by a runner-up in the Bangkok election - tallying over one million.
Unfortunately, his selling points were not enough to draw the most votes from Bangkok residents.
Pre-election surveys suggested Pongsapat was leading and may have urged more people to vote.
Still, the vote results suggest people in Bangkok did not want Thaksin's representative to win. While some were not so happy with MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, they reluctantly backed the Democrat candidate.
One reason is Bangkokians don't want a "monopoly" or "takeover" by Thaksin's camp after over 10 years of national government since Thai Rak Thai Party won in 2001 to the incumbent Pheu Thai Party headed by his sister Yingluck. They want the parliamentary opposition party as a balance on power and still want a "seam" between national and local politics. While the chance of the Democrats coming back as a national government seems to be slim, they gave the Democrats an opportunity to run the capital.
Looking further, some Bangkokians may fear that Thaksin might claim Pongsapat's victory as acceptance by the whole country of his sister's government. He may even push for an amnesty law to try to return without going to jail.
In a way, the poll result shows that Bangkok residents were not ready to change. When the only outstanding choices came from the two major political parties, they chose to give Sukhumbhand another term rather than a new face.
Pheu Thai Party's decisions could also be faulted. Knowledge, capability and experience should be qualifications for voters to consider, but Pongsapat has never proved he has outstanding management ability. Further, it is widely known Thaksin was the one who picked Pongsapat and no one else. And if he had won, Pongsapat would undoubtedly have been Thaksin's nominee.
Thaksin might be blamed by some in Pheu Thai for this loss, because Sudarat Keyuraphan was another promising choice - a prominent female politician who has gained support from Bangkok MPs as well as district councillors in the city. When Thaksin chose Pongsapat, those party members were reluctant to support him.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung seemed to not help much to draw votes in Thon Buri areas, where many Democrats voters are based. Nong Khaem was the only area where Pongsapat's tally was over Sukhumbhand's. Either Chalerm's "influence" has faded, or his role in protecting Yingluck and her brother did not help Pheu Thai's popularity.
More importantly, credit also goes to the final strategy of the Democrats - their "scare tactic" to remind Bangkok residents which side had the stigma of the political turmoil from the red shirts' protest in 2010 that led to burning of buildings in the city centre.
This tactic might have worked well in the last period of election campaign and finally helped the Democrats to keep their vote base.
The scare was coupled with rumours that red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan would be one of Pongsapat's deputies. Yingluck and Pheu Thai's rebuttals of this may have calmed people's fears about such a prospect.
Pongsapat, in the end, won the election only in the opinion polls.
Pheu Thai Party might say it did not lose anything in this ballot. But it may want to question if it has reached a turning point - whether it is time for the party consider if it should continue using populist policies and whether they win over the grassroots metropolitan voters. Or should they change and try new ideas to win the hearts of city voters? It should know that the middle and upper middle class do not accept populist policies, and that they see them as burden on the government's budget.
Pheu Thai must also be careful not to insult Bangkok people - to think deeply when considering a candidate, and design well-crafted policies. Claims that any party candidate could win against the incumbent - even if it fielded an electricity pole - would have offended many.
Pheu Thai Party has failed to beat a rival party seen by many as old and weak, with a candidate many claim was not so outstanding. Unless they can take Bangkok, Pheu Thai must accept defeat for a long time and could find this a trauma according to the Two Cities theory that says, "Provincial people set up the government, Bangkok people overthrow the government."
This is another lesson for the former leader Thaksin.