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ANALYSIS

Democrats, Pheu Thai play waiting game on BKK governor's race

The upcoming Bangkok gubernatorial election will see the arch-rival Democrats and Pheu Thai fighting for the top city post, but neither party is ready to announce who their candidates are.

Although the incumbent, Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra, has announced he intends to seek re-election, the Democrats have not yet endorsed him as their candidate.

In the meantime, former Thai Rak Thai executive and former Bangkok MP Sudarat Keyuraphan has been mentioned as the likely Pheu Thai candidate, but there are certain factions within the party that may not back her.

There are three reasons behind the indecision of the Democrats.

First, the party is apparently seeking a better candidate than Sukhumbhand because the incumbent is viewed as a poor performer and has failed to impress city voters during his four-year term.

Second, by keeping mum on their decision until the last minute, the Democrats aim to make it more difficult for Pheu Thai to name a better candidate. The Democrats may think that Pheu Thai has not yet recruited a strong candidate and are waiting until the Democrats announce first.

Third, the Democrats are confident that their strong point is the party's reputation and supporters will vote for its candidate no matter who it is.

Pheu Thai has so far declined to announce its candidate for two reasons - it has yet to recruit a strong contender and it wants to know who the Democrats are running.

Several core Pheu Thai leaders want Sudarat in the race because they think she has the best chance to beat the Democrats.

But there are several reasons why it is not easy to for her to accept the candidacy or for the party to select her.

First of all, Sudarat herself does not want to be beaten again after she lost to Samak Sundaravej in the 2000 gubernatorial poll when Samak contested as the Prachakorn Thai candidate and Sudarat as Thai Rak Thai.

A Pheu Thai source said Sudarat would accept the candidacy only if she is confident of her victory. She doesn't want to risk being politically buried if she is beaten again.

But if Sudarat dares to risk announcing her candidacy now, she may have an advantage because it would pressure the Democrats to announce a candidate who is not Sukhumbhand. The move would definitely infuriate Sukhumbhand, who could run as an independent and dilute votes for the Democrats.

Secondly, Sudarat, who formerly held the ministerial posts for public health and agriculture, may feel reluctant to enter the race because campaigning for election is a lot harder than working as a Cabinet member.

And, Pheu Thai may be reluctant to field Sudarat because of "women's issues", a party source said.

Outsiders may see that the Pheu Thai would be able to boast about having two capable and influential women leaders - the prime minister and Bangkok governor. But insiders say Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra would not be comfortable with sharing the limelight with Sudarat, who has more political experience and could easily overshadow the premier.

Political insiders also say that Yingluck does not like working with Sudarat and that the premier called on her brother to put the brakes on Sudarat's offer to help deal with last year's floods.

The insiders also say that Thaksin's ex-wife Khunying Pojaman Damapong was not happy with Sudarat either.

Sudarat has reportedly travelled to meet Thaksin in China and Hong Kong to discuss her candidacy.

Apart from Sudarat, Science Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi has been floated as a possible candidate, but he turned it down, saying he was "too old". Plodprasop apparently would rather remain in the Cabinet than see himself beaten in the governor's race.

Another Pheu Thai figure who's been mentioned is deputy prime minister and Finance Minister Kittirat Na Ranong. But after Kittirat was criticised for admitting that he lied about export projections, he would definitely lose the election. If the Pheu Thai pushes him as a candidate, it would mean the party wants to eliminate him from the Cabinet in a subtle manner.

Prapas Jongsanguan, who ran for governor in 2008 as the People Power candidate and lost to the Democrats' Apirak Kosayothin, will not enter this year's election because he is now contesting for the State Railway of Thailand governor's post.

Meanwhile, some Democrats reportedly want to field their party's deputy leader, Bangkok MP Korn Chatikavanij. And Korn would be a much stronger candidate than Sukhumbhand.

But in a recent interview with The Nation, Korn insisted: "I've made up my mind since four years ago when the party considered the issue. I told the party that I would like to work in national politics so I contested for a House seat. I've decided to work as an MP. I have been visiting Bangkokians every Friday because I am a Bangkok MP and I am ready to support the party's candidate for the Bangkok governor's race whoever he or she may be."

But when asked "so you have ruled out contesting the Bangkok governor race", Korn declined to commit himself, replying: "Just report what I've said."

The Democrats are still negotiating with Sukhumbhand, asking him to change his mind and not contest the poll to clear the way for Korn.

But some Democrat sources say it is also possible that the party's candidate might be neither Sukhumbhand nor Korn. The sources said the Democrats were still wooing a strong candidate. "The Democrats' Bangkok governor candidate will not be politically strong but will be strong in the social sentiment," a party source said.

All in all, the Democrat sources said the party would not disclose its candidate for now because they are still waiting to gauge voters' sentiments until the last moment before the candidacy registration day.




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