BANGKOK - Thailand's capital will usher in its first democratically elected governor in nine years, with the top job slated to go to former transport minister Chadchart Sittipunt, according to preliminary vote tallies on Sunday night (May 22).
True to opinion polls, the independent candidate led the race with a sizeable lead, garnering about 1.3 million of the nearly 2.5 million votes counted as at 10.30pm Bangkok time, according to unofficial counts.
"If I have a chance to be Bangkok governor, once the Election Commission officially acknowledges it, I'm ready to be governor for everyone," Mr Chadchart, 55, told the media.
He served as transport minister from 2012 to 2014 during the Pheu Thai-led administration. He was nominated as one of the party's prime ministerial candidates in 2019 but quit later that year to run as an independent for the governor post.
However, critics view him as a proxy for the Pheu Thai Party that has links to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Polls closed at 5pm on Sunday and unofficial results showed Democrat Party representative Suchatvee Suwansawat, 50, neck and neck with Move Forward Party candidate Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, 44, with around 240,000 votes each.
They were among the 31 candidates that ran for the governor post.
The governor election and the concurrent city council polls are seen as a clash between the liberal and conservative camps, with Mr Chadchart and Mr Wiroj representing the former.
The latter consists of Mr Suchatvee and independent candidates, Mr Aswin Kwanmuang, 71, former governor, and Mr Sakoltee Phattiyakul, 44, former deputy governor.
In what some analysts hail as a sign of "democracy getting back to work" after the gubernatorial vote was put on hold following the 2014 military coup, more than 60 per cent of the 4.4 million eligible voters thronged the 6,800 polling stations across Bangkok despite morning rain.
The last Bangkok governor election in 2013 where Democrat Sukhumbhand Paribatra was elected had a voter turnout of 63.98 per cent, the highest since the first such election in 1975.
Following the coup, Mr Sukhumbhand was removed from office and Mr Aswin was handed the role by the military junta.
The governor and city council polls are also viewed as an indicator of party support for the national polls expected within the year.
In the Bangkok city councillor polls, unofficial results at 10pm showed the Pheu Thai Party with 19 of the 50 seats up for grabs.
Bangkok councillors are members of the Bangkok Metropolitan Council that serves as the city's legislature and supports the governor.
The Move Forward Party garnered 15 seats, the Democrat Party eight, and the Palang Pracharath Party just two seats.
Sunday's vote fell on the anniversary of the 2014 military coup that ousted the Pheu Thai Party-led administration.
Reflecting on the coup when he was detained by the military, Mr Chadchart said he does not want it to happen again.
"I want Thai people to stop fighting and quarrelling and help each other," he said.
Official polls results will take at least a week if no complaints of election fraud or irregularities are filed, said the Election Commission.