The mayoral election this past Sunday saw former secretary to the mayor, Assanee Buranupakorn elected to position of mayor of Chiang Mai, in the first mayoral election in six years since the 2014 coup.
Newly elected Assanee, who Citylife has interviewed here and here, is the nephew of the previous mayor, Tassanai Buranupakorn, who in turn is the nephew of Boonlert Buranupakorn, previous two-term mayor of Chiang Mai and current chair of the Provincial Administrative Organisation as well as previous two-term mayor and MP the late Pakorn Buranupakorn.
Over the past many years Assanee has made himself very available to Citylife and all of our questions, being our go-to man on all questions related to waste, flood and traffic management.
The Buranupakorn clan rose to political fame as staunch supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra in the early 2000s, though the family itself had long been one of the wealthiest in Chiang Mai, through their savvy investments and perhaps more opaque support of Thaksin and other political allies [It is well worth reading this story about the family for some background]. It has been reported that the two clans had a falling out a few years ago, likely as the Buranupakorn took the opportunity to fill the power gap the Shinawatras left behind when Thaksin went into exile.
In the 2012 feature story and interview, ‘The Rise of Clan Buranupakorn’, Citylife wrote: Their reach was so vast that Boonlert was quoted in 2005 as saying to Manager Magazine, “For every 100 baht a tourist spends in Chiang Mai, 10 baht goes to the Buranupakorn family businesses because we reach into all sectors of tourism, our target is to claim up to 20% of tourism monies spent.”
Citylife first interviewed Pakorn Buranupakorn in 2000, and have interviewed them all on a regular basis ever since. Charming, eloquent and very convincing, these men of the Buranupakorn family have quietly run much of Chiang Mai in the ensuring years. There have, however, been persistent accusations of corruption and vote buying, much of which was swept under the carpet as part of the culture of voting or due to ‘lack of evidence’.
This election, however, saw Assanee win 19,198 votes with Chatree Chermnocharn of the Phua Thai Nakorn Chiang Mai party (Thaksin Shinawatra’s party) winning 16,713.
Yesterday, Chatree and his entourage lodged an official complaint with the election commission Chiang Mai accusing ‘a certain party’ of buying votes. While he hasn’t come out to accuse Assanee Buranupakorn of vote buying, it is implied. He told the media that the Phua Thai party had followed all the rules and regulations of the election committee and said that it was sad to see old politics of vote buying still prevalent. He told reporters that he handed a large amount of evidence, including voice recordings, to the authorities and urged them to investigate the matter.
“Cash won the day,” laughed a candidate for the mayoral council who recently lost. Wishing to remain anonymous lest he be accused of sour grapes, he said, “Don’t be naive. This is the battle of the Titans – Phua Thai versus Buranupakorn. With Covid, people are starving, anyone who can give handouts wins the day. You don’t need to be Einstein to figure it out. The battle is over, and the Buranupakorn obviously have the upper hand. Don’t think that number 3 [Chatree] is a victim, trust me, they paid too. All we can do is let them sort this out and continue to pressure the new mayor to do his best. He had better god damn plant these promised trees everywhere and I want to see buses on the road. That is all I want from him.”
While other parties are purportedly considering lodging similar accusations, insiders say that they may not bother as they think that the political landscape is not clean enough to effectively investigate the matter.