Prayut government takes a beating in first Bangkok governor election since 2014 coup

Independent candidate Chadchart Sittipunt won the governor’s election, hinting at a decline in the popularity of the incumbent prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha

June 04, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Photo via: Supanut Arunoprayote

The pro-military ruling coalition in Thailand faced a major defeat in the nation’s capital in both the gubernatorial and city council election. On Monday, May 30, official results for the governor elections showed the independent opposition candidate, Chadchart Sittipunt, winning close to 1.39 million votes, or 52.3% of the votes polled.

The election held on May 22, along with elections for 50 members in the Bangkok Metropolitan Council, were the first popular elections to be held in nearly nine years. Moreover, these were the first local-level elections to be held in the city since the 2014 coup d’etat that brought Prayut Chan-o-cha to power on the back of a military controlled state apparatus.

After the coup, Bangkok, which was also a hotbed of pro-democracy protests in the aftermath of the coup, was brought directly under the administration of the military junta that took power under the name of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

Until the election last month, the city was led by Aswin Kwanmuang, a governor appointed in 2016 by the now dissolved NCPO. The Council, which was previously dominated by the conservative Democrat Party, was also dissolved and put into stasis. Chadchart is the first democratically-elected governor to take office in nearly a decade.

Chadchart, formerly a senior member of the Pheu Thai Party and who served as a transport minister under the militarily ousted Yingluck Shinawatra government, contested as an independent and won with a hefty margin of 1.1 million votes, the largest in decades. His closest contender Suchatvee Suwansawat of the Democrat Party could secure only 9.6% of the vote share.

When the vote shares for the gubernatorial election are compared to the Metropolitan Council election, it is evident that a significant consolidation of the opposition votes took place under the Chadchart campaign.

In the Council election, the three opposition groups, Pheu Thai Party, Move Forward Party and Thai Sang Thai combined won 36 of the 50 seats and a combined vote share of 58.1%. While Pheu Thai and Move Forward won 20 and 14 seats each, Thai Sang Thai, a new party led by Pheu Thai’s former leader Sudarat Keyuraphan, won 2 seats.

On the other hand, pro-government and pro-monarchy parties saw their worst performance in the city in recent history. The Democrat Party, a coalition partner of the incumbent Prayut government, that once dominated the elections in the city, was reduced to 9 seats and 15% of the votes. In the last metropolitan council elections held in 2010, the party had 45 seats out of 50.

Prime minister Prayut’s Palang Prachart Party was reduced to a marginal presence with only 2 seats and 11.8% of the votes, while other pro-government parties and independents took the rest of the 5 seats.

In the national general election of 2019, when pro-military and conservative forces first lost the elections in the city, Palang Prachart still emerged as the single largest party, winning 12 out of 30 House of Representatives seats in the province. Pheu Thai and Move Forward’s predecessor Future Forward Party each won nine seats.

The significant gains made by pro-democratic opposition groups, and the marginalization of Palang Prachart comes in the context of Bangkok emerging as the epicenter of Thailand’s anti-government and monarchy-reform protests which swept the city in 2020 and 2021.

Despite continued legal persecution of prominent opposition figures and those involved in the protests, along with attempts made by the state to outlaw the monarchy-reform movement, the effects of the movement resonated in the election results. Nevertheless, political observers are cautious to draw predictions based on the election results.

As Prachatai wrote, while the results do “reflect a significant anti-government sentiment, because the new Governor-elect is from the opposition faction, which insists on winning offices through election and democratic means,” Chadchart’s victory is very linked to popular perception of him as an individual, and government opposition may not do as well in future elections.