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Bangkok’s new governor a ‘man of the people’

Chadchart Sittipunt, who showed a clear lead in exit polls, will become Bangkok’s first elected governor in nine years.

As of 6.32pm, when 304,212 ballots had been counted, Chadchart looked like he was set to score a landslide victory with 157,173 votes under his belt, leaving the first runner-up behind with more than 126,700 votes, according to the NationTV website.

As an independent candidate, Chadchart, who is often referred to as “The Hulk” or the “strongest minister on Earth” by his fans, is clearly popular among voters not just in Bangkok but also upcountry.

Several years ago, a photograph of a barefoot Chardchart carrying bags of food into a temple in Surin went viral on social media.

He said that he had gone for an early morning jog while in Surin for a mobile Cabinet meeting and decided to give alms to monks.

The local resident who snapped a picture of him, barefoot and in a t-shirt and shorts carrying bags of food, nicknamed him “The Hulk”. And the name has stuck.

In fact, his campaign posters for the Bangkok gubernatorial elections also followed the green theme that is linked with “The Hulk”.

Chadchart was transport minister in Yingluck Shinawatra’s government from October 27, 2012 to May 22, 2014, when her government was ousted by the military.

Strong links

Chadchart has a long-standing connection with Bangkok because his father, Pol General Saneh Sittipunt, was once the Metropolitan Police chief.

The politician, who has two older brothers, completed his secondary education at Triam Udom Suksa School before doing a bachelor’s with honours in engineering at Chulalongkorn University.

He later picked up a master’s in business administration from the same university before heading to the world-famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to get a master’s in public works engineering (structure).

He also completed a doctorate in public works engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Chadchart started his career as a structural engineer for a private company before becoming a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Engineering. He then became assistant rector for Chulalongkorn from 2005 to 2012.

As an academic, Chadchart also served as an adviser to the transport minister under Thaksin Shinawatra’s second tenure and then again under Samak Sundaravej’s government. However, he was not given a formal position.

Then in 2012, he was made deputy transport minister under Yingluck’s government before rising to the post of transport minister in the same year.

Great triumphs

His recognised achievements include changes to the Bang Sue Grand Station’s blueprint to ensure it could accommodate high-speed trains, and changes to the Red Line electric train system so it had four routes instead of just three. He was also behind the purchase of eight rapid trains from CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles Co Ltd, as well as the overhaul of the railway system in the upper North of the country.

Chadchart also had senior Transport Ministry officials ride buses to work and report problems before he took a bus to work to get a first-hand experience of the problems faced by Bangkok commuters.

After the Yingluck government was toppled, he was appointed to the committee for drafting competitiveness strategies, but he quit the panel on October 2, 2017.

As transport minister, Chadchart was noticed for being down-to-earth. He liked taking motorcycle taxis or songtaew minibuses to work. He also often hopped on trains unannounced to check on them.

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