Bangkok votes for new governor in test after pro-democracy protests

Bangkok, May 22 (EFE).- Residents of Thailand’s capital Bangkok were voting Sunday for a new governor for the first time since the last military coup in 2014.

The polls are marked by many first-time voters, who represent more than 15.5 percent of all eligible voters, and come after two years of protests pushing for democratic reform.

With many electoral debates – including one in which actor Russell Crowe put questions to the main candidates – covering a wide range of issues, these local elections have raised great expectations.

Political analysts have indicated that this poll can be seen as a barometer for next year’s general election, ahead of which Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, the general who led the 2014 coup d’état and in 2019 converted into a politician, shows enormous wear and tear.

Sunday’s election coincides with the eighth anniversary of that military coup.

Pollution, rising cost of living, infrastructure plans, education and aid for the most vulnerable people are some of the main issues the candidates have discussed. They have also had to position themselves on a more sensitive issue: the monarchy, protected from criticism by heavy local laws.

In 2020, a movement led by university students began a series of massive protests demanding democratic reform and, in an almost unprecedented act, reform of the monarchy.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the arrests of many protesters, including the main leaders, has plunged the protests into a prolonged hiatus.

During the electoral campaign, the most progressive candidates have put on the table the problem of traffic jams caused by the convoy of cars that accompany the members of the monarchy, as a nod to the younger voters.

This is a key group in the elections because some 700,000 people, or about 15.5 percent of the 4.5 million voters, will exercise their right for the first time on Sunday.

The clear favorite, according to various polls, is former transport minister Chadchart Sittipunt, 55, who is running on an independent platform and presented a 100-point program to improve the chaotic metropolis.

Chadchart, removed from politics since the coup d’état that ejected him from his position, has managed to combine a feeling of change with the commitment to formulate progressive policies and the know-how to take advantage of the hundreds of memes that he stars in thanks to his reputation as a muscular man.

Bangkok, which has traditionally been a fiefdom of conservative parties, has not held a gubernatorial election since 2013, when the Democratic Party won. The current governor, Aswin Kwanmuang, was handpicked in 2016 by the military junta.

Aswin – 71 years old and an independent candidate – remains second in the polls, but at a significant distance, while other candidates with fewer possibilities are Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, 44, of the progressive Move Forward party, and the conservative Suchatvee Suwansawat, 49, of the Democratic Party.

Thirty-one independent candidates and those linked to political parties will contest the elections in which representatives of the districts of the city will also be elected. EFE


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