Former transport minister Chadchart Sittipunt emerged as the decisive winner after vote counting concluded on Sunday night in Bangkok’s first gubernatorial election in almost a decade.
A ballot-counting process on Sunday evening.
Chadchart, who will turn 56 on Tuesday, clenched the victory in an overwhelming majority that smashed key records in the capital’s voting history. He won over 1.3 million votes, or nearly 52 percent of all votes counted – the biggest portion secured by any winner in the gubernatorial race so far – and became the first Governor-elect to maintain a lead in all of the city’s 50 districts.
The Election Commission said it will officially confirm Chadchart as the 17th Governor of Bangkok within 30 days. The commission said about 2 million people voted in Sunday’s polls, a turnout of 60 percent.
The election coincided with the anniversary of the 2014 coup that toppled the civilian government in which Chadchart served as the transport minister. In a speech to his supporters on Sunday night, Chadchart recalled how on the very same night eight years ago, when the coup was unfolding, he was taken to be held at a military base with his hands tied and his head covered by a bag.
Chadchart said that he did not feel anger or hatred for those responsible for his treatment, and was ready to offer forgiveness.
“That memory reminds us that, when the people quarrel, hate, and fear each other, eventually there will be a group of people that gain the benefit,” Chadchart said in front of Siam Square One shopping mall. “We can see things differently without being angry or hating each other.”
Trailing behind Chadchart were Democrat runner-up Suchatchavee Suwansawas, who won 254,723 votes, and Move Forward Party’s Wirot Lakkhana-Adisorn, who followed closely behind with 253,938 votes.
Former Bangkok deputy governor Sakoltee Phattiyakul, placed fourth at 230,534 votes. Sakoltee played a key role in the street protests organized by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, or PDRC, which helped set the stage for the military coup in 2014.
Incumbent Gov. Aswin Kwanmuang, who also contested the race as an independent, came in fifth place, with just 214,692 votes. Aswin formally conceded the race to Chadchart at about 19.30 on Sunday.
Speaking to his supporters at his campaign headquarters, the former police general said he was “not surprised” by the results. He also wished Chadchart the best of luck in his tenure as the next Governor.
“I’d like to ask Mr. Chadchart to carry on the policies I started that are beneficial to the public,” Aswin said. “I’d like to ask Mr. Chadchart to keep pushing for things that are beneficial to the people of Bangkok.”
He declined to comment on his future in politics, saying that he would “take a rest” for now.
Suchatchavee congratulated Chadchart an hour later.
The results were in line with an opinion survey conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration ahead of the election. The pollster anticipated that 50.72 percent of its respondents would choose Chadchart as their candidate when the poll opened on Sunday.
The survey was conducted over a three-day period leading up to the vote, and was only published on Sunday evening to comply with voting regulations.
Bangkok had its last gubernatorial election in 2013. The next year, the military seized power and suspended all location elections. The junta led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha appointed Aswin, now 71, as Governor of Bangkok in 2016 by a special decree. Aswin quit his post in March to run in the election – but only after having served longer than most elected Governors.
Chadchart’s victory will likely spell bad news for Prayut and his allies. The engineering graduate is generally seen as a liberal, a political rarity in Bangkok elections, which in previous years were largely dominated by conservative and pro-establishment elements.
A seismic shift was also felt in the election for the 50-seat Bangkok Council which took place on the same day. The opposition parties Move Forward and Pheu Thai surfaced as the clear winners, each winning approximately 28 percent of the votes. The Democrat Party, whose candidate won the last gubernatorial race back in 2013, placed third with just 14 percent of the votes.
Out of 50 seats in the Council, 19 went to Pheu Thai Party, 14 to Move Forward Party, 9 to Democrat Party, 2 to Thai Sang Thai Party, 2 to Palang Pracharat Party, 2 to Rak Krung Thep Group, and 2 to independent candidates.
Chadchart, who served as transport minister under the Yingluck Shinawatra administration from 2012 to 2014, campaigned on promises of making the city more equitable, accessible and environmentally friendly with some 200 policies which were listed on his websites.
For many young voters, he is the familiar face of a popular internet meme, which plays up his godlike strength and superhuman feats – a Thai variant of the Chuck Norris meme.