Pheu Thai candidate opts for low-risk approach as Democrats throw heavy punches in run-up to Sunday's poll
The Bangkok governor's election has taken the style of a boxing match, with Pheu Thai Party's Pol General Pongsapat dancing just out of range as Democrat Sukhumbhand Paribatra stands in the centre of the ring demanding that they exchange punches.
In the final run up to the ballot on Sunday, the Democrats certainly seem to be throwing some "heavy punches" at their arch rival, reminding Bangkokians about the "burning of the city" during the political crisis in 2010. This is despite several warnings that this strategy might backfire. The other strategy being used by the Democrats is reminding voters that if Pongsapat is elected the entire country will be ruled by one party - Pheu Thai.
"Bangkokians should not forget about the city going up in flames. If their [Pheu Thai's] candidate wins, they will laugh and say Bangkokians forget easily. They will take the capital hostage and turn it into a battlefield once again," Korn Chatikavanij, the Democrat Party's deputy leader who is in charge of Bangkok, said at a rally on Saturday.
The Democrats have been desperately putting all their bets on the table, sometimes even asking voters to not go for independent candidates.
"Please vote for us even if you don't like Sukhumbhand," Jurin Laksanawisit, one of the Democrat deputy leaders, was heard saying.
However, Pongsapat seems to be at an advantage because not only he is a new product that some voters want to try, he does not have the stigma of being a veteran politician either.
Pheu Thai's campaign strategy for Pongsapat seems to be the same as the one they had for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in the 2011 general elections - no confrontation, no counterattacks or rebuttals.
During the final period, Pongsapat will focus on door-to-door personal campaigns without joining any debates, Pheu Thai sources said.
On the other hand, Sukhumbhand - like other Democrats - always joins debates and uses different kinds of rhetoric. He has even used slang in his speech and shown a rare aggressiveness, which might win him backing from some hardcore supporters.
Pongsapat, on the other hand, has hung on to his "good guy" image and voters are paying him more attention despite his "too good to be true" policies. In fact, even Pheu Thai Party's de facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra has been laying low to avoid stirring bad feelings.
A Bang Khen resident, who usually votes Democrat and asked not to be named, said he was wondering whether to go for Pongsapat or independent candidate Suharit Siamwalla.
"The Democrat Party is insulting Bangkokians. It would have easily won if it fielded Korn, but it didn't. The party's executives were not strong enough to pick a suitable candidate. Instead, they chose an elite, a senior member who has done little to prove his competency," he said, adding it did not really matter because both parties were equally bad and were using populist polices to woo voters while ignoring the simple needs of Bangkok residents.
"I have spoken to many friends about what Bangkok needs and though it may not be very interesting, but most of us want a clean city with a good environment. Of course, we want traffic problems to be solved too. We don't really need free stuff," he said.
A Bang Khunthien resident, who does not support any particular party, said she would go for Sukhumbhand because she does not want Pheu Thai to monopolise the country. "Maybe a Democrat governor will help control corruption when the national ruling party is Pheu Thai. I don't know if it will actually work," she said. "But I really want to ask Sukhumbhand what he has done to solve traffic problems. Things have not changed at all over the past four years."
Apart from the governor candidate, the Democrat Party seems likely to hold the most political seats in the capital - it holds 46 out of 61 seats in the Bangkok Council and 289 out of 361 seats in the district councils.
In the 2011, Democrats won 23 seats in Parliament and the popularity of the two parties in Bangkok was not that different because the Democrats only won 68,161 more party-list votes than Pheu Thai.
Meanwhile, previous Democrat candidates for Bangkok elections won about 800,000 to 900,000 votes, while Pheu Thai's candidates got 500,000 to 600,000.
This year both parties, especially the Democrats, believe that the bigger the turnout the better advantage they will both have. However, some opinion surveys show that people who might choose not to vote would mostly be Democrat supporters.
Pheu Thai's election director Phumtham Wechayachai told a newspaper that a bigger turnout would show more residents want to see a change in Bangkok, which may add legitimacy to the election result.
In recent years, only about 50 per cent of eligible voters seem to be coming out to vote. The highest turnout was in 2004 when 62 per cent of eligible voters showed up.