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The reluctant winner

The reluctant winner

Winners can also be losers. So it proved last month when Sukhumbhand Paribatra was re-elected governor of Bangkok.

It was a stunning and unexpected victory, although what Sukhum­bhand had to do with it is hard to gauge.

Certainly, it is hard to think of a candidate who was frowned upon so much by his Democrat Party colleagues and by the media, and who campaigned so ineptly, and yet who won so handsomely.

Well, politics is a strange and fickle business and we should not dwell too much on Sukhumbhand’s failings, for his triumph was a life-saver for the Democrats and its leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

It was also uplifting for Thailand, and in a way, good for the nationally governing Pheu Thai Party and its defeated candidate, Pongsapat Pongcharoen.

By retaining Bangkok, the opposition Democrats can now continue to provide some semblance of a check-and-balance on the dominant Pheu Thai central government under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The PM’s party and its allies already dominate parliament and reign supreme across the whole of Thailand, except, thankfully, for the capital and a few pockets in the deep south.

If Sukhumbhand and the Democrats had lost Bangkok, it would have meant ceding almost total control to the swaggering Pheu Thai warlords and their fugitive puppet master, Yingluck’s elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.

And that would have been just as profoundly unhealthy for Thailand as is the institutionalised stranglehold of the Cambodia People’s Party on this country’s polity.

So, for all his faults, Sukhumbhand’s win was a great fillip for Thailand – and of course, it was hugely uplifting for the Democrats, who have been in the doldrums since losing the 2011 general election.

If they had also lost their Bangkok bastion, it would have been a disaster, which would likely have obliged their leader Abhisit, the Ernest Milquetoast of Thai politics, to resign.

Now, thanks to Sukhumbhand – a man he disdains, and the sentiment is mutual – Abhisit has another lease on life.

The governor’s re-election was even a plus of sorts for Pheu Thai and Yingluck, since it has given them a much needed wake-up call.

The PM’s continuing honeymoon, rather like that of Aung San Suu Kyi in neighbouring Myanmar, is starting to show signs of fading – and that trend will accelerate if she continues to underwhelm and put on weight.

More portentously, the Anti-Corruption Commission is investigating an alleged one million-dollar loan she secretly made to a company run by her common-law husband, Anusorn Amornchat.

If the commission rules against her, Yingluck could be disqualified and forced to step down – echoing the fate of her brother Thaksin, the former PM, who remains her key adviser.

In case that scenario comes to pass, the party has arranged for Yingluck’s elder sister, Yaowapa Wongsawat, to contest a by-election this month in a safe Chiang Mai seat.

Yaowapa is a stern political enforcer, who will whip the somewhat lax Pheu Thai caucus into better shape, and just as importantly, will be positioned to slot into Yingluck’s place if the PM is disqualified.

Interestingly, the Bangkok governorship result also brought kudos to the loser Pongsapat, who polled more than one million votes in the opposition’s heartland and is sure to be rewarded with a plum appointment soon.

Only the poor winner Sukhumbhand lost out. He never really wanted to be governor in the first place, but was railroaded into taking the job when the former Democrat incumbent was disqualified.

Foreign affairs is really his forte, and as a former deputy minister who grew up among princes and plenipotentiaries, his over-riding ambition has always been to become Thailand’s top diplomat.

But his remarkable re-election means he can no longer aspire to that post for at least another four years.

Instead, he’ll have to settle for the mansion and the pomp: another trumpet flourish, another pair of embossed underpants. It can’t be so bad.

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