In February or March, the governor of Bangkok - the vast metropolis with complex problems - will be elected under a shadow of deep national division and amid urgent challenges for the new governor, including deteriorating traffic congestion, possible severe flooding and unruly city planning.
Hard-core supporters of the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties will definitely cast an “ideology vote” or choose a candidate from the party they support, regardless of his or her qualifications. The red shirts will certainly not vote for the Democrat candidate.
If incumbent Governor Sukkhumbhand Paribatra resigns before completing his term on Friday, the gubernatorial race will take place on March 3 – but if he completes his term, the election will be held on February 17.
Despite the partisan divide, there are still a lot of undecided voters who may be swayed by individual candidates or parties’ policies on how to handle the top ten urgent challenges.
The Nation newsroom has interviewed Bangkok residents, academics and concerned people and identified these top ten urgent challenges the next BMA governor will face. They are: traffic woes, flood prevention, solving unruly city planning, increasing parks to enhance quality of life, tackling increasing garbage, putting street vendors in order, preparation for the Asean Economic Community, tackling crime, dealing with interference by the central government, and preparation for a greater influx of foreign tourists.
Traffic woes are expected to be the top priority challenge for the next governor. Late last year, a lot of city residents started complaining about worsening traffic snarls and most blamed the situation on the Pheu Thai government’s policy on tax rebate for first-time car buyers.
There are now more than 7.4 million registered vehicles in Bangkok, which in fact can accommodate just 1.6 million vehicles on its roads.
Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning’s director Chula Sukmanop said Bangkok could no longer expand its road surface because the land price was too high for expropriation.
“[All] we can do to improve traffic flows in the capital’s road networks is to create shortcuts, tunnels and overpasses,” he said.
Chavalit Chanthornrat, an engineer in water resource management and an executive of Team Group Co Ltd, sees the next governor having to rush to integrate all drainage systems to increase drainage efficiency and to dredge all the canals and drainage pipes in preparation for heavy rains.
Bangkok is notorious for untidy city plans and zonings. A freelance academic, Paranee Sawasdirak, sees the zones that should have been preserved for cultural or environment purposes as being exploited for commercial purpose.
“For example, the area from Bang Sue railway station to Makkasan railway station should have been used for parks, but it is being taken over for commercial purposes,” Paranee said.
She said the new governor should conduct public hearings on how to improve the zoning.
The next challenge, related to city planning and zoning, is to improve the quality of life for Bangkok residents by increasing the number of parks in the metropolis.
Dr Jamnien Woraratchaiphan, secretary-general of the Arts and Environment Conservation Association, said the ratio has increased to 5 square metres per resident--but it is still far below the ratio of 32 square metres per resident in New Delhi. City residents should be able to reach a park within 15 to 20 minutes, he added.
The BMA has to dispose some 8,700 to 9,700 tonnes of garbage each day, according to BMA spokesman Wasant Meewong, and the amount is rising.
Chatree Watanakhechorn, acting director of the Garbage Disposal Division of the BMA’s Environment Department, believes the next governor’s challenge will be to convince city residents to cooperate in separating garbage for easier and more efficient disposal.
Scenes of street vendors blocking sidewalks are common in Bangkok. So far, the BMA has allocated 700 spots for street vendors to sell legally and 100 of them are in Ratchathewi district.
When street vendors were found selling outside the permitted zones, crackdowns occurred – but were often followed with allegations that BMA officials extorted money from the vendors. Sophan Wongduangphu, a patrol head of the City Law Enforcement Department of the BMA, said this problem was a chronic one and a major challenge for the next governor.
Bangkok is under pressure to internationalise itself after Thailand integrates into the AEC in 2015 because it is a major Asean capital.
Manaswee Srisodaphol, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, believes the next BMA governor should develop Bangkok to be economic and a business hub of Asean by providing English training to all people from walks of life.
To reduce the crime rate in the capital is also a top challenge for the next governor. Pol Lt General Theeradej Rodphothong, a former Special Branch Police commander, foresees the Bangkok governor and BMA playing a key role in crime prevention. The BMA could provide infrastructure and enforce social order regulations against crime. Forexample, the BMA should provide sufficient light poles at remote or isolated alleys, or organise zonings for night entertainment venues.
Good governance is seen as a major challenge for the next governor. If he or she is a Pheu Thai member, the governor could be under pressure from politicians of the same party to compromise the public interest, said Wicha Mahakhun, a member of the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
The BMA is also supervised by the interior minister, which makes it difficult for the BMA to run its office independently, he added.
Bangkok has become one of the world’s top tourist destinations, so Piyamarn Techapaibul, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, says measures for welcoming tourists could be a challenge for the next governor. One possible improvement would be for museums to be promoted more interestingly, not a place to keep only ancient objects, Piyamarn said.