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Bangkok Voters Elect Governor From Opposition Democrat Party  - 2004-08-30

In local elections in Thailand's capital, Bangkok voters gave overwhelming support to the opposition Democrat Party's candidate. But analysts expect the governing party of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to retain its parliamentary majority in general elections due early next year.

Bangkok's voters overwhelmingly elected a new governor from the Democrat Party, which is a leading opponent of the party of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In semi-official results, 43-year-old Apirak Kosayodhin, a former telecommunications executive, received more than 900,000 votes. That was almost 300,000 more than the candidate supported by the governing party, Paveena Hongsakul, a former member of parliament.

An executive from Bangkok's famous sex industry, massage parlor owner Chuwit Kamolvisit, came in a distant third.

Like many of the more than 20 candidates in the race, Mr. Apirak promised fresh efforts to improve the city's notorious traffic congestion, reduce smog, and improve waste management.

But analysts said the election result was a protest vote by Bangkok's urban middle class against the governing Thai Rak Thai Party of Prime Minister Thaksin, and what many see as the prime minister's autocratic style of government.

Pichai Chuensuksawadi, editor-in-chief of The Bangkok Post, says the victory was a boost for the Democrat Party, which was soundly defeated by Thai Rak Thai in general elections in 2001. "Politically at least, it will be a moral boost for the Democrats," he says. "It is a protest vote against the Thai Rak Thai, especially among the middle class, saying, well, at least in Bangkok there will not be a Thai Rak Thai domination."

The vote marks the first return to Bangkok's city hall in almost three decades for the Democrats, Thailand's oldest political group.

But Mr. Pichai says that given Mr. Thaksin's strong political support in the countryside, he expects the governing party to hold onto power in next year's national elections. "Despite the sentiment in Bangkok, Thai Rak Thai still enjoys popularity upcountry, and the fact is one could say that Thai Rak Thai is more than likely to retain a majority."

Bangkok voters turned out in record numbers to cast their votes on Sunday, with almost 63 percent of four million eligible voters going to the polls.