Bangkok Governor: The Surprise Win

Top poster: Democrat Party – Bangkok can move forward immediately – Please vote no. 16 Mr.Sukhumbhand Paribatra –
Bottom poster: Please vote Pol Gen Pongsapat Pongcharoen No. 9 – Pheu Thai Party

[After months of polls driving home the fact that the Bangkok Governor’s race was a shoo-in for the Pheu Thai,
AND after claims from Thaksin that his party could run an electric pole in the election and still beat the Democrats,
AND after the press universally writing somber articles on how the Democrats got stuck with a dud candidate like Sukhumbhand,
AND after an array of exit polls confidently showed the Pheu Thai ahead,
the reality was that the Democrat candidate, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, not only won, but apparently won by a record number of votes compared to past winners.

We all should have known. Polling in past governor races has been consistently wrong and opposite to reality. They usually showed the opposition Democrats heading to crushing defeat with the Pheu Thai (or other Thaksin-associated party at the time) taking on a studied air of confidence and boastfulness about the inevitability of its win. Still, after all these years, and with more sources of polling that ever, it speaks volumes that Thai polls are not only wrong, but appear bent to serve a political purpose.

The Thai polling bodies can once again hang their heads in shame. Already sheepishly blaming the respondents (who they say lied to them), pollsters in Thailand has been suspect ever since the Thai Rak Thai days when rumors began circulating that polls were compromised (like everything else) for political ends. Political parties across the spectrum have been suspected of getting their supporters to fabricate answers. Another contributing theory is that it does not take much to prod a Thai to give an answer they think you want to hear–especially on politics. Regardless of the actual reason, the first thing any Thai analyst will tell you is “don’t trust the polls” and the events of today underline this.

That the media also almost universally joined in the chorus proclaiming that the Pheu Thai candidate would win speaks volumes about the deep and enduring influence that Thaksin and his political machine can still wield.

This win certainly puts pressure on the government. The shock January 29 protest against the Yingluck government, led by a splinter Red Shirt faction, was quieted by the public admonitions from Red Shirt leaders to wait for the inevitable Pheu Thai triumph in the Bangkok governor’s race.

This win for the Democrats preserves the unwritten rules of Thai politics that say the urban elite can cast judgement (i.e. protest or provoke a coup) against a government brought to power by rural votes and rural alliances, but which is then seen to become too corrupt or power hungry. A win for the Pheu Thai candidate would have signaled that the Bangkok elite approved of the government and had no justification to protest its actions. With a win in the bag, it meant the main obstacle to the democratically elected Pheu Thai-led government rewriting the rules to enable amnesty for all would be gone.

The Democrat win (continuing the scenario of Bangkok residents electing a candidate from the opposition for the governorship), means a disappointed Red Shirt rank and file and might lead to further dissension within the movement.

So instead of heating up another round of movement on amnesty and pardons, the Bangkok governor’s race maintains the balance of power. The government, since its reshuffle last year, has made every signal that it intends to play it safe and ensure its longevity, building on the stellar popularity of Yingluck that has refused to fall as was typically been expected of prime ministers of the past.

The next move is Thaksin’s. He has to continue to move towards a situation where he can return to the country and to power. With the Pheu Thai already leading the government, angry street protests once again demanding blood and thus amnesty for all are impossible.

With his allies in the government resigning themselves to the status quo of popularity, holding power, and spending money, it will make it that much harder to start to rock the boat again by demanding amnesty.

Whether this win can serve as the beginning of a rebuilding of the Democrat Party brand and popularity is anyone’s guess. Democrat Party head Abhisit and reelected Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand are reportedly not on speaking terms. The rural public’s infatuation with the Pheu Thai does not seem to be waning. At the very least the win should cheer those previously resigned to the inevitable steamrolling popularity and influence of Thaksin and the Pheu Thai.]

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