Thai Opposition Retains Bangkok Control After Yingluck Challenge

Thailand’s opposition won its fourth straight Bangkok governor election today, staving off a challenge from a member of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s party who led in polls before the vote.

Incumbent Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra, a member of the opposition Democrat Party, led by about seven percentage points with 100 percent of votes counted, according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. He topped Pongsapat Pongcharoen, a member of Yingluck’s ruling Pheu Thai party, in one of the closest governor races in two decades.

“I want to thank Prime Minister Yingluck for promising to work with me seamlessly,” Sukhumbhand told supporters yesterday in a speech broadcast on Channel 7. “I am also ready at all times to work with the government seamlessly too.”

The victory provides a boost to opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva even as the narrow margin signaled gains for Yingluck in Bangkok. The opposition had won the past three governor contests dating back to 2004 by margins of more than 10 percentage points, and took more than 75 percent of the capital’s seats in the past two nationwide elections.

Yingluck congratulated Sukhumbhand on his victory and pledged to cooperate with him. Thaksin Shinawatra, her brother who was ousted in a 2006 coup, has seen parties linked to him win the past five national elections.

“Even though our votes were not enough to become governor, I and the party are still ready to serve Bangkok people,” she told supporters in a briefing with Pongsapat. “I am ready to work with the governor seamlessly.”

Budget Restraints

Abhisit, who campaigned for Sukhumbhand, became Democrat party leader in 2005. He has presided over two straight defeats in national elections and faces murder charges for his role in dispersing protests in 2010 that killed more than 90 people and led to arson attacks in Bangkok. He denies any wrongdoing.

Bangkok covers an area twice the size of New York City and accounts for about a third of Thailand’s economy. Households in the capital earned about 24,000 baht ($805) per month in 2007, almost double the average in other parts of the country, according to the most recent data on the National Statistical Office of Thailand’s website.

The Interior Ministry, which appoints governors in Thailand’s 76 provinces, oversees the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. The governor controls a budget of about 60 billion baht, or about 40 percent of what Jakarta spends to run Indonesia’s capital.

Sukhumbhand, 60, is a great-grandson of former King Chulalongkorn. He has promised to bolster the city’s flood defenses, build more parks, extend mass transit lines and install more closed-circuit television cameras to fight crime.

The past five Bangkok governor elections have been decided by margins exceeding 10 percentage points. Sukhumbhand received 1.26 million votes, while Pongsapat took 1.08 million. Voter turnout was about 64 percent, according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.