City life is no fairy tale
After years of waiting, voters in Bangkok will head to the highly anticipated gubernatorial election on May 22 to choose one of 17 candidates to tackle a myriad of issues facing the capital.
These candidates began beating the drums of their election campaigns, promising the moon.
Most of the candidates pledge to reduce road accidents at crosswalks, increase green spaces, deal with local mafias and even develop a megastructure to host the Olympics.
Many of them rely on innovative solutions, such as the use of digital or artificial intelligence to make the capital “smarter”.
However, voters may have to cross their fingers that such promises are kept. This local election has been touted as high-profile because Bangkok is more than Thailand’s capital – it’s the heart of the kingdom’s power, finances and decision-making processes.
In another light, the capital, more than two centuries old, has been a scene reflecting the inequalities in the country.
Bangkok has been the place of hopes and dreams for rural villagers seeking to escape the desperation of their hometowns and find employment elsewhere.
Today, the capital is home to more than 10 million inhabitants while it has only 5.7 million registered inhabitants.
Overcrowding leads to social and environmental problems, such as traffic, crime, lack of education and deteriorating living standards.
Research shows Bangkok’s story is not the one told in American author Edith Wharton’s novel The house of joy.
In 2018, the Thailand Research Fund found that households in the capital had the lowest happiness score of 7.5 compared to the South (7.8), North (7.7) and Northeast ( 7.7).
Meanwhile, Mercer in its 2019 Quality of Living City report ranked Bangkok 133rd on its list of the world’s most livable cities, down from 131st in 2018 and 115th in 2013.
In the latest National Statistics Office survey, residents of Bangkok and its three adjacent provinces – Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan – had the lowest happiness score of 32.
People in the north had the highest rate with 34.3, followed by the south with 34.1 and the central region with 33.5, he said.
These surveys ask bigger questions. Can the modern and fancy infrastructure projects and public services that the candidates promise to implement lead to true happiness? Can the city make people happy by clearing sidewalks and banning street vendors?
Does happiness come from more green space and manicured trees in places expropriated from former communities?
Whether the candidates keep their promises after becoming governor remains unclear.
Bangkok is a special administrative area, governed by its own legislation.
But in reality, the town hall does not have the absolute power to do anything. Megaprojects with social and environmental impacts still need to be approved by the Home Office or even the cabinet.
Several matters in the capital do not fall under the jurisdiction of the town hall, in particular the traffic police.
That said, Bangkok doesn’t need populist or fancy promises. A simple, direct and realistic political platform is all the people of Bangkok are asking for.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent the Bangkok Post’s thoughts on current issues and situations.
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