Thailand's main opposition party triumphed in an election for Bangkok governor yesterday, dealing a surprise blow to exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's ruling party, which had hoped to win the city and cement its supremacy.
Incumbent governor and Democrat Party member Sukhumbhand Paribatra won almost half the vote to beat Pongsapat Pongcharoen, the candidate of Thaksin's Puea Thai party, the city administration said.
"I would like to thank you voters who trust me and the Democrat Party," Sukhumbhand said, promising to work harder and be more dedicated.
Pongsapat, a media-friendly former senior policeman, had looked set for a slender victory in the poll, but he conceded yesterday evening as it became clear he would fall well short.
He expressed willingness to work with his rival "no matter in what position" - comments that were soon echoed by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, who pledged "to work "seamlessly" with the Bangkok governor.
Sukhumbhand, a member of the royal family and a former deputy foreign minister, thanked Yingluck for promising close cooperation with his administration. The two were criticised for failing to work constructively during serious floods in the capital two years ago.
The victory provides a boost to opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, even as the narrow margin signalled gains for Yingluck in Bangkok. The opposition had won the past three governor contests dating to 2004 by margins of more than 10 percentage points, and took more than 75 per cent of the capital's seats in the past two nationwide elections.
"The Democrats won because a large part of Bangkok were scared of Puea Thai holding too much power," said Kan Yuenyong, a political analyst at Siam Intelligence Unit. "In the long term, Thailand is heading towards a system ruled by two main political parties."
Opinion polls had suggested that Pongsapat would drive Abhisit's middle-class establishment Democrat Party out of power in Bangkok and usher in the Puea Thai Party, which is favoured by the country's poor.
Opinion polls had shown the Puea Thai party leading by a margin of up to nearly 17 per cent.
Reuters, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse