The two main candidates are obviously Puea Thai’s Pongsapat and the Democrat Party’s Sukhumbhand. None of the independent candidates have any chance.
A. Who is winning?
BP thinks that Pongsapat is in the lead for the following reasons:
1. The polls say he is. Depending on which poll it is either between 1-17 points, but none of the five major pollsters have Sukhumbhand in the lead in their last poll.
2. Even if you don’t believe the polls, the talk from the Democrats is of a close race OR Sukhumbhand is not that far behind, the need for people to vote, telling people to not waste their votes on independent candidates, recriminations and talk of what next from within Democrat Party circles, and then finally the last-minute going negative referring to the burning down of buildings in 2010. It contrasts with the trying to get one million votes in 2008 and 2009 (where the victory was assured and it was just the margin that they were focusing on).
The Bangkok Post:
“I was confident right from the start that it would be a very close race. We won’t see the winner leaving others far behind as we did before,” said Mr Abhisit.
Meanwhile, Ong-art Klampaibul , party list MP and the director of the Democrats’ governor campaign, is also confident that MR Sukhumbhand does not trail as badly as the polls predict.
“Since we have decided to field the last Bangkok governor once again, we must accept that there are both people who like and dislike him since he has been in office for the past four years. The new candidates have done nothing yet, so they do not have to face the same criticisms,” Mr Ong-art said.
The Bangkok Post:
Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, key party members and MPs went on stage yesterday to address the public during a major election campaign rally in front of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA).
Deputy Democrat leader Korn Chatikavanij said all the combined votes for independent candidates would not see any of them win the election.
He said votes for independent candidates should not go to waste.
Only MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, the Democrat Party’s Bangkok governor candidate, and Pol Gen Pongsapat Pongcharoen of the Pheu Thai Party stood a chance of winning, Mr Korn said.
The Bangkok Post:
Pheu Thai Party candidate Pol Gen Pongsapat Pongcharoen sits five points ahead of his rival one month from the March 3 election, according to the poll.
Mr Abhisit said the survey results did not worry him or the Democrat candidate
“There is almost a month to go before election day. Anything is possible,” he said.
Just a week before Bangkokians go to vote, the Democrats yesterday held their major election campaign event entitled “Some Truths the Bangkokians Have to Know” at the Lan Kon Muang ground next to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration headquarters…
Senior Democrat figures, including former party leader Chuan Leekpai and deputy leader Korn Chatikavanij, reminded Bangkok voters of the political unrest of 2010 and the “burning of the city”.
The unrest and riots, which resulted in 91 deaths, took place during 10 weeks of street protests from March till May 2010 by the red shirts, whose leaders include politicians from the ruling Pheu Thai Party.
“Let’s see if people want the people responsible for burning the city. I believe that Bangkok people are smart enough,” said Chuan, who is a former prime minister.
He also urged voters to support the party that protects the country’s interest and rule of law.
Korn said: “The burning of the city is something they cannot deny responsibility. They think Bangkok residents have forgotten about it. We must not forget or they will take Bangkok hostage again.
“If you vote for their candidate, they will smirk at you for being forgetful so easily,” he said.
Former Democrat leader Bhichai Rattakul said earlier that Abhisit had failed to seek senior party members’ help with the Bangkok election campaign, and that he should step down if Sukhumbhand is defeated. But party election director Ongart Klampaiboon expressed confidence that Sukhumbhand would finally take a lead in the governor race, as his job approval rating had improved as the election draws near.
BP: Also, while there was great internal dissent within Puea Thai before the choice of Pongsapat with many favoring Sudarat and this infighting spread to the press. However, with the polls and Pongsapat’s performance, the Sudarat supporters have gone quiet (FWIW, BP doesn’t think she would have won).
None of the above is 100 percent proof, but if you have followed enough election campaigns elsewhere in the world, it is the same. Recriminations and infighting from those who are behind start to leak out…
Everything around the election and the battle between a fresh face vs incumbent and the style of the race has a number of similarities with the 2011 general election.
B. So how much will Pongsapat win by?
Depending on which poll it is either between 1-17 points, but none of the 5 major pollsters have Sukhumbhand in the lead in their last poll. As blogged the other day:
Aside from the performance of the candidates, Suan Dusit has faced criticism for the reliability of its polls and that they favour the government -see here, here, and here for the criticism and the critique of the criticism. The more the criticism, the more that Democrat voters are not likely to participate or to state their preference. Nevertheless, even taking that into account and as reflected by other polls, Pongsapat still has a small, comfortable lead which will be difficult for Sukhumhband to make up in the final week.
BP: Both Suan Dusit Poll and ABAC, to a lesser extent, faced criticism for some of their earlier polls. After some criticism, the last poll showed a 16 or 17 point lead which was much, much higher than earlier polls which had the lead at less than 10 points. As noted the more the criticism, the less that Democrat-leaning voters will answer survey questions OR state their choice – also the fact a very noticeable lack of enthusiasm by Democrat-leaning voters meaning many may not be bothered to answer – as well as the number of undecideds means that BP views that the lead is less than 10 points.
As noted in a recent Bangkok Post article:
At crunch time at the poll stations, some Democrat-leaning undecided voters will probably vote Democrat again just to sooth their conscience that they played no part in helping Pheu Thai win.
BP: Agree with this, but would predict the following:
Other candidates, around 12-17%
No votes/spoilt votes, up to 5%
BP: If a multitude of factors goes Sukhumbhand’s way, he may eke out a victory, but any victory by Sukhumbhand would be by the narrowest of margins.
C. Why is Pongsapat winning?
NOTE: The below is partially gleaned from watching around 2-3 hours of videos from both campaigns of their rallies and watching both appear on TV interview, ThaiPBS Dtorb Jot (probably the premier current affairs interview program)* as well as other interviews given.
A. Fresh face vs old face. Often one of the complaints about Sukhumbhand is that he has been ineffective or didn’t achieve much. This may turn voters away from Sukhumbhand, but not necessarily towards another candidate. The fresh face to politics helps. The tactic of the fresh face has worked in 2004 (for the Democrats with Apirak) and in 2011 (for Puea Thai with Yingluck). It seems to have worked again this.
A number of Democrat-leaning voters are very, very unhappy over the choice of Sukhumbhand and that someone who is a fresh face, is more dynamic, and has a vision wasn’t chosen. Many will vote so Pongsapat doesn’t win, but others will stay at home.
B. Pongsapat is an effective campaigner and well-prepared vs Sukhumbhand who is more a technocrat and lacks charisma. Pongsapat is not new to giving media interviews and speaking in public from his time as Royal Thai Police Spokesperson, but he certainly has perfected his talking points – see his interview on Dtorb Jod and Ruang Den Yen Nee. He clearly knows the policies, but also the details. There is no stumbling in the explanation (there is a reason why there has been no mention of gaffes). Sukhumbhand is not a charismatic speaker and the contrast between a Sukhumbhand rally vs a Pongsapat rally – referring to when the two are speaking and not the other speakers – is surprising. One problem for Sukhumbhand is that his style of talking and campaigning may be viewed as signalling a lack of enthusiasm and not really wanting the job.
C. Pongsapat’s focus on policies and lack of negativity.
Pongsapat is following the Yingluck playbook of not saying anything controversial. From what BP has noticed, he doesn’t attack Sukhumbhand. In fact, his focus is on talking the policies and his experience. Sukhumbhand doesn’t rate a mention.
Not saying anything controversial also extends to not mentioning Thaksin. The only time he mentions Thaksin is when he is directly asked. Below is a rough summary of part of the interview from Dtorb Jot interview:
Q. Puea Thai slogan has been Thaksin thinks; Puea Thai acts… So if Thaksin thinks will Pongsapat act?
A: Pongsapat thinks and Pongsapat acts. I will use the machinations of Puea Thai to help in implementing.
Q [after getting no actual answer to the question, the interviewer asks again] So if Thaksin thinks will Pongsapat act?
A. If Thaksin thinks then it is Puea Thai that will have to act. If it is a problem of Bangkok, Pongsapat needs to think and Pongsapat needs to act and Puea Thai needs to help in all ways.
BP: It is striking. It is almost as if Thaksin doesn’t exist. Thaksin himself is also being quiet.
This contrasts with the Democrats who have gone very negative over the last week. Previously, Sukhumbhand was very restrained, but the shackles have been off the last week. Now, if Sukhumbhand was running against a red shirt leader, it would make more sense, but Pongsapat is not one. Pongsapat is not talking about the red shirts (don’t recall him mentioning them in speeches, but wasn’t particularly listening for red shirt mentions). He just talks about his policies. His campaign is extremely well-focused and has been mostly free of distractions.
There are some other reasons like being able to work with the central government – particularly in light of the floods and the need to work together – and things like the futsal fiasco which are relevant, but have simply run out of time. They have also been discussed elsewhere.
*Sure it is no Paxman, but the candidates face tougher questions than normal.