Bangkok voters want to hear realistic plans
Gubernatorial candidates make promises they can't keep, but we hear nothing about feasible ways to make the city more liveable
The Bangkok gubernatorial election kicked off earlier this week. The key candidates have launched their agendas for the public to examine, with supporters noting each candidate's alloted number. Banners and billboards are now sprouting up across town.
Each candidate has embarked on a public relations campaign. Their people know how to manipulate the media by putting the candidates in situations designed to win over voters: picking up rubbish as garbage trucks make the rounds, even impersonating Keanu Reeves by driving a public bus, copying a well-known scene from the movie "Speed". With media-savvy publicists hard at work, this election promises a colourful campaign from all the candidates.
The gimmicks are inevitable and they might draw more voters to the polling stations. But the messages from the candidates should really focus on what the gubernatorial election is all about - the real work and responsibility of the governor.
Aside from the exciting visuals, voters have over the past few days been overwhelmed by fairytale promises such as free bus rides and a quick fix for the traffic jams by the extension of mass transit throughout the city.
Some politicians seem to understand that, nowadays, populism can be successful marketing tool because voters become addicted to handouts and schemes for cheap this or that. Therefore they extend ever more promises, which have proved successful in the national elections. Some candidates are going for full-blown populist promises by offering freebies. This despite the fact that there are many questions over the negative consequences of these populist policies at the national level, for example the source of financing and alleged corruption in the rice-price subsidy scheme.
With a budget of only some Bt60 billion, the Bangkok governor has limited resources to administer the city effectively. The bulk of the budget, based on the expected spending and revenue income of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), goes to normal expenditure such as administrative costs and salaries for BMA personnel.
The following example gives an idea of how small the Bangkok budget is. The government's first-car-buyer subsidy has so far cost Bt90 billion of taxpayers' money. One mass transit route would require only a Bt60-billion investment.
The BMA is in charge of civic duties. It does a "housekeeping" job for the city, such as provision of waste treatment, housing, security and basic public health services. However, some candidates have promised large-scale projects while ignoring what their basic duties would be - which are supposed to directly respond to the needs of city residents.
For example, none of the candidates have sufficiently discussed how they would deal with the unplanned growth of Bangkok, which has created negative effects such as pollution, crime and a massive migration of people from rural areas. Rapid urbanisation leads to environmental degradation, and Bangkok is facing serious problems in this regard as the already high population continues to burgeon. No candidate has offered a concrete plan to respond to the basic needs of residents, such as how to improve services at municipal healthcare facilities.
After the massive flood of 2011, candidates should lay down clear plans on zoning in Bangkok, to allocate space for water retention and drainage, Everyone knows that Bangkok is vulnerable to inundation, but no one, it seems, is willing to learn any lessons from the last deluge.
The candidates need to tell voters what their vision is for Bangkok and what they plan to achieve over the next four years. For instance, it will not be possible to make Bangkok an "intelligent city" if the governor ignores the quality of education in municipal schools or fails to establish and maintain sufficient community libraries. Bangkok's charms, what's left of them, will fade away if the city administration fails to maintain the uniqueness and tradition of each district and community against the pressure of rapacious property developers.
What we want to hear from the candidates are actual plans, not fancy images that will come back to haunt voters, as will the negative consequences of ill-considered populist policies. Instead of misleading voters, the Bangkok gubernatorial candidates would do a great service by simply telling how they propose to turn Bangkok into one of the most liveable cities in the world.