Pattaya mayoral and city council elections finally set for May 22

Kittisak “Bob” Ninwattanatochai was named as the Move Forward Party candidate for mayor at Bali Hai Pier on Monday. A slate of 24 youthful city council candidates also was unveiled.

Pattaya voters finally will get a chance to choose their own mayor and city council members following five years of military-appointed leaders being foisted upon them.

The Election Commission on Monday set May 22 as Election Day, the first since 2012 and one that, ironically, falls on the eighth anniversary of the military coup that killed true democracy in Thailand.

Unlike in Bangkok, the choices Pattaya voters face are not much different – or better – than they were a decade ago.

In July 2012, voters returned Itthiphol Kunplome to the mayor’s chair and 24 council members from his Palang Chon Party slate. Those elected officials remained in power until their terms ended at the end of June 2016.

After that, the junta put then-permanent secretary Chanapong Sriviset in charge until 2018 when Itthiphol’s older brother, Sonthaya, was named mayor by Gen. Prayut, for whom he had been softening up Chonburi for in anticipation of national elections in 2019.

The appointed city council, meanwhile, disintegrated. Three years of attrition had left the city council with only six members when the panel met Aug. 12 last year. After an acrimonious debate over a proposal to spend 200 million baht on new closed-circuit television cameras, half the six resigned in protest.

Unable to form a quorum, the council collapsed. The three remaining became “lame ducks”, unable to hold meetings pass any legislation or budgets.

The government initially refused to appoint replacements but acquiesced in November and installed another 12 temporary members.

New elections for Pattaya and Bangkok were expected to happen at the same time as subdistrict polls in November, but Prayut delayed them indefinitely to keep his men in office.

In about two months, Pattaya voters finally will get to express their opinion about the past decade of rule by military appointees and the Kunplome clan.

Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome is surrounded by his supporters and well-wishers as he announces his intention to run in the Pattaya city elections scheduled for May 22.

The military-backed ruling party will not contest the Pattaya elections, deferring to their man Sonthaya and his Rao Raksa Pattaya (We Preserve Pattaya) group. So the Kunplomes, which have ruled Pattaya and Chonburi for more than three decades, face one less obstacle to retaining power. But the rise of the Progressive Movement will ensure they won’t go unopposed.

Sonthaya said he hasn’t decided whether to run in May’s election, but will be part of his party’s slate. But his brother Itthiphol, the former mayor, said last week he expects Sonthaya to run for the big chair.

The progressives, meanwhile, named lifelong Pattaya resident Kittisak “Bob” Ninwattanatochai as the Move Forward Party candidate for mayor at a news conference at Bali Hai Pier on Monday. A slate of 24 youthful city council candidates also was unveiled.

Kittisak, 47, was born and raised in Pattaya and worked for well-known banks in Thailand and has been a freelance photographer.

“We want to solve the main problems in Pattaya, which, in my opinion, are never-ending road construction, flooding and the restoration of the tourism sector and economy,” Kittisak said at the news conference.

“Covid-19 has decimated many lives and businesses and there continues to be a struggle to allow all sectors of business and tourism to fully open and restore the economy.”

Progressive leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit said Kittisak has been with the party for movement for three years.

Kittisak “Bob” Ninwattanatochai was born, raised, and is a lifelong resident of Pattaya and very familiar with the city’s unique economy, growth, and importance to tourism. His slogan is “Take Pattaya back for everybody”.

“He is new to politics, having never been involved previously, but he has a lot of experience in management,” Thanathorn said.

“Importantly, he was born, raised, and a lifelong resident of Pattaya and very familiar with the city’s unique economy, growth, and importance to tourism.”

This is not Move Forward’s first foray into local Chonburi politics and it has not gone well so far. Despite its popularity at the national level, particularly with Thailand’s younger generations, the progressive movement has failed to gain a foothold in local politics.

In December 2020’s provincial administrative organization elections, Move Forward, the successor to the disbanded Future Forward Party, suffered a crushing defeat across the 52 provinces where it fielded candidates for PAO presidents and council members.

In November’s subdistrict-level polls, the progressives bounced back, winning 38 mayorships and council seats, but not in Nongprue Subdistrict, where a full slate was fielded.

The original version of this story and full coverage of the Bangkok & Pattaya elections appears in the Bangkok Herald, a Pattaya Mail partner.