Internal rifts could decide race for city governor
The campaign season for the three-horse race for the position of Bangkok governor is well underway.The poll date is tentatively set for March 3 and candidacy registration will take place from January 21 to 25.
Although a number of aspiring candidates are expected to join the race, three are serious contenders with a realistic chance of winning.
Incumbent MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, a Democrat, is the "defending champion", running for his second term.
The ruling Pheu Thai Party, meanwhile, is poised to announce its endorsement of Pongsapat Pongcharoen's candidacy next week. Pongsapat will step down from his concurrent positions as deputy National Police chief and secretary-general of the Office of Narcotics Control Board to join the race under Pheu Thai's banner.
And over the past six months, former National Police chief Seripisut Temiyavej has been canvassing for votes as an independent.
Regardless of the popularity of each of these lead contenders, the outcome of the race will hinge on how well the two major political parties can patch up their respective internal rifts.
Seripisut has a fair chance of becoming a dark-horse winner if the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties cannot each conduct their campaigns in a unified manner.
Sukhumbhand undoubtedly starts the race as the front-runner. But his victory is far from assured.
Despite a lack of major achievements in his first term, one of his strengths is that he is a non-controversial figure. He is well attuned to the city bureaucracy, and the way it gets things done.
He is one of the few Democrats who have cordial ties with the red shirts. And he enjoys loyal support in the capital's central business district.
Even though the Department of Special Investigation recently announced graft charges against Sukhumbhand over his involvement in the controversial extension of the BTS elevated train concession, this should not impact on his campaigning.
His predecessor, Democrat Apirak Kosayodhin, won his re-election bid in 2008 despite graft charges looming over him in connection with the fire-trucks scandal.
Surprisingly, Sukhumband's major weakness is his condescending attitude towards fellow Democrats - particularly party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.
It is an open secret that in the past four years, he has claimed the city administration as his own turf.
The Democrats waited until the last minute to endorse the governor's re-election bid. And their endorsement came only after he had agreed, in closed-door negotiations, to allow the party to do two things: pick his deputies and have a greater say in running the city should Sukhumbhand win a second term.
Should Abhisit and Sukhumbhand's fragile ties fall apart, a political backstabbing drama might unfold.
Under such a scenario, certain Democrats might divert votes to Seripisut, seen as their party's ally.
Based on Pheu Thai's straw polls, the ruling party is trailing in the upcoming race.
At the intervention of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra last weekend, Pheu Thai bigwigs agreed to put their differences behind them in order to back Pongsapat.
It remains to be seen whether key Pheu Thai figures, such as Chalerm Yoobamrung and Sudarat Keyuraphan, could really work together to ensure a winning campaign.
Regardless of whether the race ends in defeat or victory for Pheu Thai, Pongsapat will enjoy a win-win situation for himself.
Should Pheu Thai claim victory in the race, he would move up the political ladder.
If it fails, he can look forward to being reinstated in the police service. He would also harbour hope of receiving Thaksin's blessing when the position of National Police chief comes up for grabs next year.