Voters strive for balance of power as Democrat defies polls
Political observers consider the result an attempt by the capital's residents to counter the Pheu Thai Party's grasp on power on the national stage.
It was the fourth consecutive win for the Democrat Party in the city race.
According to the unofficial result from the Election Commission, MR Sukhumbhand received 1,256,231 votes, the largest ever haul in the gubernatorial election. His rival, Pheu Thai candidate Pongsapat Pongcharoen, was close behind with 1,077,899 votes.
Sunday's poll marked the first time the winning candidate and runner-up amassed more than 1 million votes each.
It also marked the largest voter turnout at 63.98 per cent. A total of 2,715,640 out of 4,244,465 eligible voters cast their ballots.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra Sunday congratulated MR Sukhumbhand on his victory.
"The Pheu Thai Party and government will gladly support the Bangkok governor and is willing to seamlessly work with MR Sukhumbhand,"she said.
Wuthisarn Tanchai, deputy secretary-general of King Prajadhipok's Institute, said the opposition party's victory indicated that its campaign strategy had been effective.
In the last leg of the election campaign, the Democrat Party urged city residents to re-elect MR Sukhumbhand to avoid giving the ruling Pheu Thai Party a monopoly on political power.
"They [voters] were possibly concerned that if Pol Gen Pongsapat won the government could do anything [it wanted to] like amending the charter or issuing an amnesty," Mr Wuthisarn said.
He said the last-ditch effort benefited the Democrat campaign mostly at the expense of independent candidates rather than converting the supporters of the Pheu Thai contender.
Voters seemed to be split between the Democrats and Pheu Thai, with few votes going to independents.
Despite the Democrat victory Mr Wuthisarn noted a significant increase in the number of votes for the Pheu Thai Party in the city.
Pheu Thai's political base in Bangkok is apparently expanding and the Democrats need to be wary of the threat this poses, he said.
Pichai Rattanadilok na Phuket, of the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida), agreed that the Democrat Party's strategy to campaign against Pheu Thai attaining monopoly on power was a deciding factor for many residents.
He said Pol Gen Pongsapat would have won had the election not been linked to national politics.
"This is no ordinary election. The outcome has a symbolic meaning. That's why MR Sukhumbhand won," he said.
"Don't even think the people like you [MR Sukhumbhand] any better. They just don't want Pheu Thai to win." (Continued after the photo)
Mr Pichai said Pheu Thai gained almost 400,000 votes compared to the gubernatorial election four years ago.
He believes this should be seen as a stark warning for the Democrats, who gained only 200,000 votes compared to the previous race.
Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Political Sciences, said the Democrats' decision to refer to political violence in 2010 in efforts to attack Pheu Thai probably turned away many voters from MR Sukhumbhand.
These voters may have looked to Pheu Thai instead as many people do not want the social divisions of the past to linger, and he warned that Democrats could face an uphill battle in the next general election.
Wuttisak Larpcharoensap, rector of Ramkhamhaeng University, said the results showed that national politics is a crucial element in the governor race.
He said the Democrat campaign did well with the city's middle class who are not fond of the Pheu Thai Party.
MR Sukhumbhand Sunday thanked his supporters, as well as Ms Yingluck for pledging support for City Hall under his leadership.
"I promise to reach out to the Bangkok people who did not vote for me. I will reach out to them so that together we can join hands in building Bangkok. I will be the Bangkok governor for everyone. I will work hard. Bangkok people have placed their trust in the Democrat Party for 12 years. It's becoming 16 years now. I will not forget today for the rest of my life," he said.
Pheu Thai candidate Pongsapat conceded defeat in the election and congratulated his rival MR Sukhumbhand.
"I thank every voter who chose me as a candidate representing Pheu Thai Party.
I will be willing to support the Bangkok people in the future and share in all kinds of experiences," he said.
Meanwhile, Democrat secretary-general Chalermchai Sila-on could come under pressure to step down in the party's general assembly in April. Mr Chalermchai is known to have opposed MR Sukhumbhand seeking a second term.
A source close to Mr Chalermchai, however, said the secretary-general had worked hard to help the candidate and that voters reluctantly chose MR Sukhumbhand to keep Pheu Thai at bay.
The source criticised party heavyweights for ignoring voters' sentiments.
"If MR Sukhumbhand can't measure up in one or two years, it will be doom and gloom all the way to the general election," the source said.