Opinion: Chadchart victory speaks of a long-ago lost opportunity

Yesterday, Chadchart Sittipunt won Bangkok’s gubernatorial election in an unprecedented landslide. By coincidence, Sunday was also the eighth anniversary of the military coup that toppled Chadchart’s last elected position and gave us the military regime of Prayut Chan-ocha.

For eight years, Prayut and his cabinet of military cronies have mismanaged the economy and failed in their response to the pandemic. The revolving door at government house has meant that long-term plans put in place by the junta have largely dissipated or been untenable. Prayut has also rigged the electoral system to stay in power by making it nearly impossible for the opposition to gain the numbers needed to form the government. This is in large part due to the appointment of an unelected senate that is allowed to join the elected lower house in selecting prime minister. Who selects these senators? The military of course!

But while the odds are stacked against the opposition to the military in elections, they are not impossible. A sufficient landslide in 2019 would have seen Prayut and his tin-breasted fatigue-wearing (and fatigue inducing) cohorts dumped on the curb.

That is why it is so frustrating to see Chadchart win in such a a commanding position on Sunday. If we wind back to the 2019 election, there were plenty of people who had had enough with military rule. The new upstart Future Forward Party had not yet taken the number of seats they eventually did, and many political observers wondered with Pheu Thai had enough ground level support to sweep into power in a landslide.

It was definitely a tall order, the balloting system and the senate showed that the establishment were not above stacking the deck against Pheu Thai and their allies. But instead of uniting and campaigning hard, Thaksin Shinawatra and his affiliated parties decided in favor of a left field move by running Princess Ubolratana as their prime minister candidate. That ended in disaster, resulting in the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chat Party and left Thaksin with just Pheu Thai in the running during an election that was rigged against big parties.

But even then it was not impossible to win. Pheu Thai just needed a united message and a focal point but instead they confusingly ran two leaders and their messaging around who would become prime minister was confusing and ridiculous. Those two leaders were of course Chadchart and Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan.

On Sunday, Chadchart received over 1.3 million votes. Sudarat’s candidate did not make the top five.

Chadchart, while running as an independent candidate, also galvanized voting for the district positions for Pheu Thai – giving them their largest vote share in conservative Bangkok ever.

What happened in 2019 will always be a mystery. The silly decisions by Pheu Thai and Thaksin cost them votes, that much is certain. And given that both Chadchart and Sudarat are now out of the party, it remains to be seen who PT can galvanize around ahead of the next election.

What Sunday does make clear is that there is a ready and willing national audience for Chadchart should he ever make the leap to the national stage whether it is with Pheu Thai or not.


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