The 25 candidates bidding to become Bangkok's next governor have one thing in common: a flair for creative thinking. That became apparent earlier this week as they revealed campaign platforms ranging from the innovative to the fanciful and the downright weird to the impractical. And there are plenty more promises still waiting to be rolled out. First, though, the candidates should read the governor's job definition again to avoid disappointment.
Among the pledges are new parks, free bus and boat services, a 20-baht flat rate for the skytrain and 10 baht for air-conditioned buses, a costly new monorail, traffic tunnel and bridge spanning the Chao Phraya, a toilet at each of the capital's 4,900 bus stops, city-wide incinerators, a guarantee of no more floods and more closed-circuit TV cameras to deter crime. Now it is time to return to earth and face some troublesome facts. Although the city governor is elected, in reality he or she has far less power than most people think. The city administration is heavily reliant on the central government and its state agencies, most of which are reluctant to delegate authority to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) for fear their own status and power might be eroded.
What Bangkok's city administration really needs is greater autonomy to make its own decisions in the same way as Tokyo, London or New York. Without it, many of the pledges being made by the candidates will be impossible to keep. That is because the authority to implement them lies elsewhere. Funding has always been a major stumbling block, even when city and national administrations come under the same political party. Getting a project off the ground usually involves a great deal of political haggling with the central government. What is needed now, above all else, is full-scale administrative reform to propel the BMA into the 21st century.
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