Given the results of opinion polls in the runup to the May 22 gubernatorial election, Chadchart Sittipunt’s victory came as no surprise. However, his landslide win — the largest in history — defied the expectations of most analysts.
It seemed that the votes he garnered — 1,386,215 in total, according to the unofficial count — came from diverse groups spanning the political divide, and not just from the core opposition Pheu Thai Party as had been expected.
Although he ran as an independent candidate, Chadchart was persistently linked to Pheu Thai because he was one of its three prime ministerial candidates at the last general election in 2019.
Support from across the spectrum
However, support for him came from across the political spectrum, including voters who are not fans of Pheu Thai or the liberal camp that he was believed to represent, said former election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn.
He pointed out that in the city council election, which ran parallel with the governor poll, Pheu Thai only received 620,009 votes – meaning Chadchart garnered an extra 766,206 votes from somewhere else.
Writing on Facebook, the analyst surmised that many supporters of other parties voted for Chadchart, citing the big gap between the percentage of votes for each party’s gubernatorial candidates and those for their city councilor candidates.
For instance, Move Forward’s city council candidates gathered a total of 482,832 votes, but its governor hopeful Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn garnered a meager 253,851.
The Democrat Party’s council candidates won a total of 348,853 votes, while its gubernatorial candidate Suchatvee Suwansawat gained only 254,647.
The same happened to supporters of other parties and political groups, allowing Chadchart to gather votes from here and there to finally achieve his phenomenal victory.
Forces that triggered landslide win
When it comes to why Chadchart obtained so much support in the governor poll, analysts pointed to his personality, his qualifications, wide support base, and strong campaign team, among other reasons.
Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, believes Chadchart’s support base covered three generations – Gen X, Y and Z (from first-time voters to the middle-aged) – and accounted for more than half of the 4.4 million eligible voters.
He added that, unlike Move Forward’s Wiroj, Chadchart ran on a policy platform that was not “too extreme”, allowing him to attract support from conservative voters.
The analyst also pointed out that Chadchart had launched his campaign at least two years before the election, which gave him a huge advantage over his competitors.
For Yuthaporn, this headstart contributed to Chadchart’s “super-landslide” victory, in which he won six times more votes than second-place Suchatvee.
Meanwhile, running as an independent also handed Chadchart an advantage, said the analyst. He would have attracted far less support had he contested as a Pheu Thai candidate, as the party and its patriarch Thaksin Shinawatra are disliked by many Bangkok voters.
Panas Thassaneeyanont, former dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Law, attributed Chadchart’s landslide victory to four factors — his sincerity, a campaign that lasted over two years, far-sighted vision in tackling Bangkok’s problems, and his education and experience.
“He studied and trained as an engineer, which should prove helpful in tackling many of Bangkok’s problems,” Panas said.
The US-educated governor-elect has a master’s in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a PhD from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Panas is convinced that Chadchart’s “reconciliatory” political standpoint was another key factor in his big win.
“This stance won the hearts of many Bangkokians. It gives them hope that at least there’s someone who is truly clean and capable of tackling the city’s problems,” the academic said.
He also pointed out that after nine years in which local elections were suspended due to the 2014 military coup, frustrated Bangkokians were keen to express their choice at the ballot box.
“It was a clear sign. The vote was virtually unanimous. Chadchart won in all  districts,” Panas said.
Stithorn Thananithichot, director of the Innovation for Democracy Office at King Prajadhipok’s Institute, said Chadchart managed to attract a huge number of votes from Pheu Thai and Move Forward supporters.
The analyst credited the campaign team for portraying Chadchart as a truly independent candidate with integrity. He said previous candidates backed by Pheu Thai failed to display the strong personality shown by Chadchart.
Stithorn also noted that Chadchart had no strong rivals, allowing him to win comfortably. The conservative camp fielded four competitors, which split the conservative vote.
The analyst said it would have been a closer contest if ex-national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda had competed against Chadchart, instead of former Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang and his ex-deputy Sakoltee Phattiyakul.
Chakthip was expected to run under the ruling Palang Pracharath Party’s banner, but he withdrew in November after it became clear that Aswin would enter the race. Chakthip explained that he did not want to compete against a former police colleague.
Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS)