By James Harriman,

In just over a week, Bangkok voters will return to the polls to elect members of the city’s metropolitan and district councils. Last month, the city held a hotly contested national by-election, which saw the ruling Democrat Party defeat the opposition Puea Thai Party in close balloting. The winning candidate, Panich Vikitsreth, won with a margin of victory of around 8 percent or 15,000 votes. Korkaew Pikulthong, the losing candidate, put up a strong fight even though he remained jailed on terrorism charges for the duration of the contest.

The close by-election result left the Democrats dizzied and asking questions—how could more than 40 percent of the electorate still support a “terrorist” candidate? Why does our political brand, a brand that trumpets reconciliation and duplicates Thaksin’s populist policies, not sell with red shirts voters? Is it the harassment and intimidation, combined with military, media, and judicial underhandedness that turn them off?   

The last set of elections for the Bangkok Metropolitan Council (BMC) took place four years ago on July 23, 2006, amid a strong wave of protest against former PM Thaksin Shinawatra—the military ousted Thaksin two months later in a coup. In that poll, the Democrat Party came out on top, winning 35 of the council’s 57 seats. The Thai Rak Thai Party (forerunner to Thaksin’s Puea Thai Party) came in second with 18 seats, and the remaining 4 went to independents. In the period following, the city held three by-elections (two members also jumped parties), leaving the Democrats with 35 seats, Thai Rak Thai (Palang Prachachon>Puea Thai) 20, and independents 2. This time around, the Democrats are aiming to raise their seat total to 47, according to the Bangkok Post,

Democrat MP for Bangkok and party director Natthapol Theepsuwan said the party would build momentum from Mr Panich’s victory and encourage more people to vote for them in the next elections.The party aims to win at least 47 of the 61 seats on the city council, he said.

The upcoming BMC poll will take place on August 29th and cover 61 seats—up from 57 in 2006. Under the new format, 39 districts will have a single member, while the remaining 11 districts will have two, respectively. This poll, like the one last month, will almost certainly take place under the emergency decree, raising serious questions about the “free and fair” nature of the contest. During the by-election in July, the opposition complained loudly that the Democrats used the emergency decree as a political weapon, blocking their campaign speeches and intimidating supporters from coming out into public.  

  

Local media give a slight advantage to the Democrat Party since they are the national governing party and hold political advantage in most of Bangkok. Democrat Party member Sukhumband Paribatra is the Bangkok governor and the Democrats won 29 of the city’s 36 seats in the last national election. On the election outcome, Krungthep Turakit notes that this election poses a challenge for political analysts because nobody can predict how much the “burn the country” or “murder of the people” messages will play with voters. The government regularly affixes the “burn the country” slogan to the red shirts, while the red shirts label PM Abhisit a “murderer of the people”.

“การเลือกตั้งในสถานการณ์ทางการเมืองที่แบ่งขั้วแยกสีชัดเจนเช่นวันนี้ จึงเป็นสิ่งที่ท้าทายนักวิเคราะห์การเมืองอย่างยิ่ง เพราะไม่มีใครฟันธงได้ว่า “กระแสเผาบ้านเผาเมือง” หรือ “กระแสฆาตกรฆ่าประชาชน” จะมีผลต่อการตัดสินใจของผู้คนในครั้งนี้มากน้อยแค่ไหน“

Lastly, as perhaps most importantly, the New Politics Party (NPP), founded by yellow-shirt, People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Sondhi Limthongkul, will compete in the BMC elections—though in only 40 of the 61 districts. Nevertheless, the NPP’s participation marks a key difference between this election and last month’s by-election. In the by-election, the NPP candidate withdrew at the last minute because the NPP and the Democrats feared a split vote, which could have swung the election to the opposition Puea Thai. Now, with the inclusion of the NPP, a number of close races between the Democrats and Puea Thai could end up in Puea Thai hands, as NPP voters take away votes from the bigger Democrat Party. According to Krungthep Turakit, many districts in the 2006 election had close finishes, so a NPP snubbing of the Democrats is a real possibility.

ทว่าเมื่อย้อนดูผลคะแนนจากคราวที่แล้ว ปรากฏว่า มีหลายเขตที่ผู้สมัคร ส.ก.ของ ปชป. กับเพื่อไทย คะแนนสูสีกันมาก

If the NPP does perform well, this will not bode well for the Democrats in the next national election, at least as far as Bangkok and surrounding area seats are concerned. Do not be surprised, however, if the NPP and Democrats end up doing a deal, with the NPP getting a larger unofficial cabinet quota for staying out of the election.

Source: Krungthep Turakit, August 14, 2010,” ศึกส.ก.-ส.ข.เมืองกรุง “ปชป.- พท.” ชิงธงโค้งสุดท้าย “การเมืองใหม่”แค่ไม้ประดับ!

James Harriman

harrimanjay@yahoo.com

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