Sudarat, Pongsapat vie for Pheu Thai ticket

national December 04, 2012 00:00

By Somroutai Sapsomboon,

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Female politician gets 'backing from party's city MPs'

Rival factions in the ruling Pheu Thai Party are pushing for their candidates to represent it in the Bangkok gubernatorial election early next year.

At least two prominent figures have emerged as competitors in this race to represent Pheu Thai – Police General Pongsapat Pongcharoen and Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan. And there could be a third contestant. According to Pheu Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit, three persons have expressed their intention to represent the party in the governor’s election but he declined to name them.
Sudarat, who had earlier ruled out running in the governor’s election, has expressed her readiness to contest under the Pheu Thai banner, according to deputy party spokesman Jirayu Huangsap, who is a Bangkok MP.
She could not be reached yesterday to confirm Jirayu’s statement.
Pheu Thai MP Vicharn Meenchainan, a Sudarat supporter, yesterday said Bangkok politicians recently urged the party’s executive board in writing to pick her as its candidate although they have got no response. He said that due to her extensive experience and reputation, Sudarat is the best candidate with the limited time for campaigning.
Sudarat, a veteran politician, gets the backing of Pheu Thai’s Bangkok MPs and local politicians while Pongsapat has the blessing of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is Pheu Thai’s patriarch. Pongsapat also is supported by some other key party figures, including Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Deputy Premier Chalerm Yoobamrung, and Thaksin’s ex-wife Khunying Pojaman na Pombejra, according to a source.
Both Yingluck and Chalerm yesterday declined to confirm the media reports that Pongsapat would be Pheu Thai’s candidate. They said the party’s executive board would decide on the candidate. 
However, Pongsapat, who is deputy national police chief and secretary-general of the Narcotics Control Board, was spotted hurriedly leaving the PM’s office at Government House yesterday morning.
Pongsapat’s previous involvement with the governor’s election was in 2004, when he joined independent candidate Paveena Hongsakula as her deputy governor candidate. Paveena, who was believed to be backed by Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party, lost to Democrat Party candidate Apirak Kosayodhin.
Sudarat’s supporters – including Pheu Thai’s Bangkok MPs, city council members and district councillors – were disappointed with the party’s plans to field Pongsapat in the governor’s election, which is expected to take place in the latter half of February.
The latest move by her backers may be indicative of Sudarat’s change of mind. The reason could be that the Democrat Party may field incumbent Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra despite a relatively lacklustre performance. He recently came under fire after the city’s new futsal stadium failed to get Fifa approval for use in the World Cup staged this month. 
Sukhumbhand has announced his intention to run for a second term and is likely to contest as an independent if the Democrats opt for another candidate. Previously, the Democrats were reportedly considering Korn Chatikavanij, deputy party leader and former finance minister, due to his comparatively better image and charisma.
The Democrats will have to deal with this matter carefully to avoid a conflict between supporters of both men. And the prospect of Sukhumbhand running as a candidate is also not good for the party’s election performance.
But Pheu Thai politicians seem to be praying the Democrats will field Sukhumbhand again, figuring that many observers favour their lady. Sudarat ran for governor in 2000 under the banner of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party. She got more than 500,000 votes but lost in a landslide to veteran politician Samak Sundaravej from the Prachakorn Thai Party, who got a record 1 million votes. If she runs again, Sudarat has to make sure history does not repeat itself. Losing again could mean the end of her political career.
In the previous governor’s poll, Pheu Thai and candidates from its previous incarnations obtained between 500,000 and 600,000 votes, compared to the Democrats’ 800,000 to 900,000 votes. 
With Sukhumbhand’s sagging popularity, Pheu Thai is likely to try and take advantage. But it may not be easy for Sudarat to convince Pheu Thai that she should run instead of Pongsapat.
Sudarat has reportedly been sidelined due to dissatisfaction by certain heavyweights and concern that she may overshadow Yingluck. Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit dismissed media reports that Yingluck and her sister Yaowapa Wongsawat did not want Sudarat to contest the city election. 
Patriarch Thaksin reportedly chose Pongsapat as the party’s candidate. The media-savvy policeman accepted the invitation but Pheu Thai opted to defer introducing him as its candidate out of fear he could may come under attack “too early”.
This tactic has also been used by the Democrats, who have not formally named their candidate.