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At last, a Bangkokian with real vision for the future of the city

For the first time, the Bangkok gubernatorial election has a candidate that Bangkokians should vote for and have full trust in. MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra (the No 2 candidate) has emerged as the most intelligent and visionary leader to offer to serve the Bangkok

Metropolitan Authority. If he wins the election on Sunday, he will become the first governor of royal blood and will continue the long tradition in his family of service to the country. His grandfather, Prachaofah Paritbatra Sukhumbhand Khromprasavan Nakornvoravinit, and his father, HRH Prince Sukhumaphinand, both worked to build Bangkok in its earlier years.

Throughout the campaign over the few past weeks, MR Sukhumbhand has outlined his policy platforms to promote the well-being of Bangkokians by improving education, the environment, healthcare, safety for lives and property, and strengthening community and family ties.

When he decided to run for governor, some politicians and academics decried that it was a great loss for the country, as he was destined to be foreign minister. But he did not think so.

Sukhumbhand spent 17 years teaching international relations at Chulalongkorn University, followed by another 12 years as a Bangkok MP for the Democrat Party. For three of those years he served as deputy foreign minister, and last year he was a shadow foreign minister. During the hostage crisis at the Burmese Embassy in 1999, he offered himself as a hostage to end the siege, and then accompanied the attackers by helicopter to the Thai-Burma border.

MR Sukhumbhand has said repeatedly that throughout his life he has worked for local community-building in Bangkok. So, he knows the pulse of Bangkokians. Above all, he has an open mind.

In a recent TV interview, he expounded on new ways to administer Bangkok through engagement and the involvement of all stakeholders, especially young people. He argues that to plan for a great modern city like Bangkok, the younger generation must be brought into the community-building process at the earliest opportunity.

For one thing, younger people nowadays are statistically destined to live longer than previous generations. As understudies, they would be well able to take charge of the city's future. Therefore, it is imperative to make young people part of the longer-term decision-making process that affects both them and their communities.

Judging from his numerous policy pronouncements, MR Sukhumbhand differs from the other candidates in that he has formulated comprehensive and integrated plans not only to transform Bangkok into one of the world's greatest cities but also to uplift the estimated 2,000 communities within the metropolitan area. If Bangkokians are healthy and happy, he points out, it will reflect on the city and its overall environment.

In addition, he has action plans to rehabilitate Bangkok's Chao Phya River. It will be hard to bring back the good old days of the "Venice of the East", but he wants to improve the water quality and overall hygiene of the river, making waterways, as in old Bangkok, part of the commuting life of the city.

It is not too far-fetched to say that he can see these plans through, as he has the intellect and extensive networks, both in local communities and abroad, to bring them to fruition.

Although a total of 14 candidates are contesting the gubernatorial poll this weekend, only half have regularly been on the campaign trail. Others have relied on the broadcast media, especially TV talk shows, for public relations opportunities and to get their points across. Sometimes, some of these candidates have not made any sense, belching out promises that have no root in reality. Half a dozen of the candidates have probably joined the race for self-publicity without much serious thought about their policies and future plans.

In the gubernatorial race last year, three leading contenders did have interesting programmes. For instance, the incumbent Apirak Kosayodhin pushed for more green areas in Bangkok, including public parks and the establishment of bicycle lanes. Others wanted to improve the safety of Bangkokians or promote such things as inter-connectivity via the Internet. All the candidates were committed to expand transportation networks within the metropolitan area.

Another interesting candidate in this race is Kaewsan Athipho, a former anti-corruption crusader. He entered the race without much preparation, thinking that his reputation would be able to attract voters. His slogan is snappy, emphasising his honesty and willingness to combat corruption. However, his policy platform reads like a political manifesto.

To run Bangkok, one needs to have managerial skills and the ability to connect with various groups of people and all communities. Bangkok is not an ordinary city; it is an extraordinary city. So should be the person who will run it.

As Bangkok's governor, Sukhumbhand would be able to work in tandem with the Democrat-led government. Many economic programmes and security-related projects could be jointly developed to make Bangkok a real City of Angels. For the first time, the possibility of having a governor who understands Bangkok's significance and potential, and is able to link it to the rest of the world, is real and in front of us. The choice is yours.

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