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Bangkok election: Who will have the last laugh?
Whether you are excited about or bored with the Bangkok gubernatorial poll, we hope this live update will help.
If you are among those who think this Bangkok gubernatorial election is rather boring, we’ll try our best to make it less so for you. If it’s already exciting to you, hopefully following it with us will make it more so. In other words, this special update is for everyone. We will put on every key development, some rants, some thoughts, some insights.
So, keep coming back to this story, which will remain on our homepage until the winner crosses the finish line. You are cordially invited to send comments or questions to email@example.com or twitter account @tulsathit.
Saturday, 8.30 am: Does this feel like the eve of an election day? My Facebook timeline surely doesn’t give big clues that Bangkok voters are about to make an earth-shattering decision in 24 hours. Politics and national affairs are overestimating themselves. My timeline says family comes first, followed by vacations, foods, feel-good verbatims and jokes.
Politically, there have been sporadic whining over the past few days, of course, mostly from Democrat fans who want to teach their beloved party a lesson. To these people, a Pheu Thai win will be bitter-sweet, like seeing your mother-in-law driving off the cliff in your BMW. (Heard this quote from a TV scientific documentary.)
News websites are lukewarm. Apart from an extremely grotesque portrayal of Sukhumbhand Paribatra on ASTV’s home page, there’s not much election content to look at. Real action will take place tomorrow, when seemingly all Thai media groups under the sun will be involved one way or another in doing exit polls.
Twitter is feeling more like it, with "city burning" and "massacre" accumulating on my timeline.
My next update will be about an hour from now and we will discuss the latest odds of key candidates.
Saturday, 9.20 am: "If public priorities are what you describe in your Facebook timeline, what on earth are you doing here and now?" I know many of you are wondering. Well, if I can earn a living by reporting that "Friend A yesterday posted more photos of her trip to Manchester whereas the daughter of Friend B has grabbed a seat in Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Arts", I will.
Ok, let’s put some substance into this update. The Nation Multimedia Group’s convergent newsroom had been of the opinion that this should be Pongsapat Pongcharoen’s election. Although Democrat Sukhumbhand Paribatra stormed into early leads in popularity surveys, most later polls indicated a big slump in Democrat support while Pheu Thai’s Pongsapat made convincing gains and finally left the former in his wake. But things got a bit interesting again over the past few days after newest surveys showed Sukhumbhand closing the gap.
If you ask me why the numbers are swinging, my best guess is that the Democrat Party’s supporters have not completed their soul-searching yet. Pheu Thai’s fans have been resolute and Pongsapat will get their votes come rain or come shine. Therefore, as far as Pongsapat is concerned it doesn’t matter whether a survey was done a month ago or yesterday. As for Sukhumbhand Parabitra, he has Democrat-till-I-die voters in his pocket, but there are also broken-hearted party followers who will not vote for him, ashamed Democrat fans who avoided telling the pollsters they would vote for him, and ambivalent love-Democrat-but-can’t-stand-Sukhumbhand masses who may make a decision five minutes before marking their ballots.
Will Pongsapat win by a landslide? Or will he just edge out Sukhumbhand? Or will we see a dramatic Sukhumbhand resurgence to steal it? The answer depends a lot on how the badly-swinging numbers of Democrat supporters and potential deserters finally settle.
Saturday, 9.45 am: Time for some quotes. Best I like from the Democrat camp belongs to senior party member Jurin Laksanavisit, speaking on a Sukhumbhand rally stage very recently. "Even if you don’t like him (Sukhumbhand), please think about us." The reporter who told me this didn’t describe Sukhumbhand’s face at the time, but the man always looks like he’s ready to cry any minute, doesn’t he?
Pheu Thai’s Chaturon Chaisaeng (just yesterday): I don’t blame Sukhumbhand for crying four days too early, although he could have saved his tears for March 3.
Saturday, 11 am: We have had 8 Bangkok gubernatorial elections and only two "independent" candidates have won so far. Chamlong Srimuang and Bhichit Rattakul, however, were far more attractive than Seripisut Temiyavej, Suharit Siamwalla and Kosit Suvinitjit. The three leading independents in this race have a mountain to climb, according to popularity polls, but an interesting point is that while the Democrats have been begging voters not to go for an alternative, Pheu Thai will actually be happy if the trio do better than expected. Pheu Thai believes support for Pongsapat cannot be swayed, whereas votes for the independents will be at Sukhumbhand’s expense.
The Democrats have been drumming up the "fear factor". Whether that will succeed or backfire depends on the timing and how much they do it. The opposition party has left it late before screaming "Don’t vote for absolute control". Whehter that was a planned strategy or out of desperation, it has limited Pheu Thai’s chances of response and given voters little time to think if it was a hit below the belt. Pongsapat is dancing around the ring, obviously not wanting to drag national politics into it.
Saturday, 12.10 pm: There are many things to keep in mind tomorrow. Will GAT-PAT exam, which will likely keep thousands of first-time voters away from polling booths, affect the outcome? Will exit polls, which failed miserably in the last general election as far as city sampling is concerned, improve their credibility this time? Will voter turn-out exceed 60 per cent? (The authorities were boasting about 70 % just a few days ago but the Election Commission today seems to have set a more realistic target of 60 %) Will the winner beat the first runner-up by more than or less than 200,000 votes, the most contentious point in the betting circles at the moment? You may add, Will Sukhumbhand cry?
Saturday, 2.25 pm: For post-till-I-drop Facebook enthusiasts, be warned that you shall never upload photos that show ballots in which markings (your or others’ decisions) are visible. Starting tonight, you shall also refrain from posting things like "(Candidate’s name or nickname) is sexy". If your friends click "Like" and it become viral, you will only have yourself to scold at if police come knocking. For drinkers, they ban sale and distribution of alcohol this evening in the city, whereas the ban order conspiculously omits drinking. If you open an old bottle at home and have problems with the authorities, don’t lay blame on me.
Saturday, 3.30 pm: Our reporters say the two rival camps are now quietly confident. The Democrats are reportedly hoping that the widely-publicised drop in Sukhumbhand’s support would turn out to be a blessing in disguise as many potential detractors could have last-minute changes of heart. Today, all the party’s big guns are on the street in a last-ditch effort to help the candidate, whose nomination had divided the party.
Pongsapat has issued an open letter today, pleading for a chance to solve problems "that I have managed to see during my campaign." His Pheu Thai Party has kept quiet on rumours, now exploited by the Democrats, that red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan is poised to be in Pongsapat’s team of deputy governors. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra cancelled some TV schedules today to chair a ceremony to release a 50-car Pongsapat convoy and help her party in the last hours of election campaign.
It is said that Pongsapat’s election motto of "Seamless" Government House-City Hall cooperation was initiated by Phumtham Vejjayachai. Many see the motto as a two-edged sword, as it also suggests the government wouldn’t fully cooperate if the new governor is from another party. Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva today has mocked the motto as signifying a better Government House and Thaksin Shinawatra liaison if Pheu Thai manages to also "control" Bangkok.
Saturday, 6.20 pm: What can I write from now? Starting 20 minutes ago, election laws prohibit content deemed to give any candidate advantages or disadvantages. A lot of sarcasm against the rules is flooding my Twitter timeline.
Reports say both rival parties will monitor the poll and watch vote count from their "war rooms". Any suspected irregularities will be dealt with swiftly. Some fuss has been made on how some soldiers who have never set foot on, let alone lived in, Bangkok have been registered recently as city residents. The number is in the hundreds, but it may become a contentious political issue.
Another controversial issue is possibly a complaint against Prime Minister Yingluck, who allegedly endorsed Pongsapat’s "seamless" campaign motto. Critics say election laws prohibit government office holders from helping or undermining any election candidate.
Saturday, 8.50 pm: Some statistics here. Eligible voters number 4.33 million. A conservative estimate has tomorrow’s turn-out at 52-53 per cent or over 2.26 million. Each winner of the last three Bangkok gubernatorial elections gathered more than 945,000 votes.
Undecided voters this time, according to two major polls about a week or so ago, number between 280,000-835,000. Meanwhile, an average of 660,000 voters went for independent candidates in the last three elections. These two groups of voters will play an important part in deciding who is the next Bangkok governor.
Saturday, 10.20 pm: Some last words before I sign off for the day. Most late indications point at a rather exciting outcome tomorrow, although surveys in the middle of the campaign all predicted a comfortable victory for one candidate. A senior political editor has told me: "This could turn out to be the closest Bangkok gubernatorial race ever. If you ask me whom I will put my bets on, all I’ll say is I’ll never bet with my own money as far as this election is concerned."
So, nobody can be complacent, including you, the voters out there. Sleep tight everyone. Good night.