Bangkok election a recipe for bizarre candidates

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The Independent Online

With a massage parlour mogul, a feisty feminist, and a maverick ex-policeman best known for his three brawling sons among the 28 candidates, the race to be Governor of Bangkok is proving to be the monsoon season's best show.

With a massage parlour mogul, a feisty feminist, and a maverick ex-policeman best known for his three brawling sons among the 28 candidates, the race to be Governor of Bangkok is proving to be the monsoon season's best show.

Thailand's mega-city, with 3.8 million registered voters, will choose a new leader on 29 August. The race is wide open. Normally rather staid showdowns between a political heavyweight and a charismatic underdog, gubernatorial elections are being contested with extra flair this year.

The governorship of Thailand's capital is not a particularly powerful post, but it is a good four-year post for a gadfly. Samak Sundaravej, the outgoing governor, has time to compere a cookery show on television between civic duties. His detractors say they find his political record less-than palatable.

Comparisons to therecall elections in California, which put action man Arnold Schwarzenegger in the governor's mansion, are inevitable. One California-educated candidate, Chuwit Kamolvisit, who until recently ran a half dozen massage parlours in central Bangkok, has spelt this out as part of his platform.

"We don't really need good or smart people to run the city," he said. "Look at Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has a good team. I also need that to help in my grey area," the billionaire told the Bangkok Post this week. This grey area, like Mr Schwarzenegger's, involves groping young women. But in Mr Chuwit's case, it was business as usual. His campaign colours allude to the red-light district where his investments flourished. "Some might find my dark side unacceptable," the candidate shrugged.

Mr Chuwit won national fame for his tirades last year against police corruption. He accused 1,000 officers of pocketing bribes or taking freebies. He claimed he had paid £1m protection money to vice squads, but that the police failed to provide any services when he fell foul of the law. He was accused of supplying underage prostitutes, and of levelling a block of prime property to get the low-rent tenants out. Though a pragmatist, Mr Chuwit, who will turn 43 on polling day, is considered a wild card.

Pavena Hongsakul, who sports a pink jacket on her posters, is a former member of parliament who champions rights for women and children. She is the leading candidate and has the backing of the Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. But she spurns his Thai Rak Thai party, and is running as an independent. "Don't worry that I will be dominated," she promises. Apasara Hongsakul, her sister, is a former Miss Universe willing to campaign for votes.

Close on her heels is Apirak Kosayodhin, 43, of the opposition Democrat Party. His good looks set him apart from the crowded field and his CV follows a proved formula. He used to run the Orange mobile phone network.

Chalerm Yoobamrung, a former policeman whose youngest son was recently acquitted for killing a law officer, is unlikely to win.

Leena Jungawat is tailed by transvestites and bawdy musicians. If victorious, this lawyer promises to abolish queues at city offices, sending civil servants to make house calls instead.

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