It’s 8am and we’re supposed to meet Tankhun Jitt-itsara, the Democrat MP candidate for Don Muang (Constituency 12). Located at the furthermost points of the MRT and BTS plus another 20 minute cab ride, the Don Muang constituency is pretty far-flung from the center of the capital. The problem is, there’s no sign of him. We ring his mobile over and over, but no answer. Not even a text. Didn’t he tell us to meet him here? This is not the best way to make a first impression.
An hour later, he finally calls and tells us to cab over to a modest one-floor building with blue Democrat signs scattered everywhere. Inside his offices are a handful of people in blue getting ready to campaign for Tankhun, and against Pheu Thai’s political powerhouse, Karun Hosakul.
Tankhun waves us into his office. While his attire—brown, sporty leather shoes, slick, black pants, and a blue, Gingham shirt—suggest he’s come a long way from the shy, short-shorts-wearing pretty boy in the 2000 hit Thai film Satree Lek (Iron Ladies), glimpses of boyish charm do surface even while talking about the serious subject of politics.
“There are two things in politics: ideology and benefits,” says the new, 32-year-old politico. “Some politicians are so consumed by the benefits they receive that they forget about the ideology they once had when they started.”
The odds are stacked against him. Numerous sources predict that he’s going to lose the battle for a constituency that has been an epicenter of political turmoil. But he remains optimistic.
“There are three things [that will make me MP of Don Muang],” he says. “Making Don Muang airport ASEAN’s trading capital and an aviation school, extending public transport lines to the area and further to Rangsit, and being a role model to students.”
Our chat is interrupted as two people come in for a campaign strategy shake-up. In the midst of the intense brainstorm Tankhun turns to us and asks, “Is there anything you want to add? I want to know what you think.”
We don’t know if he actually cares or is just pretending to. But we choose to see a starry-eyed optimist who seems to truly believe that if everyone just talked things over, Thailand would be a better place.
“Thai people tend to keep their opinions to themselves but talk about it later behind each other’s back. We’re often kreng jai, which makes the whole society less sincere,” he says.
At 11am we hop into his decade-old, pearl blue Toyota Corona and head over to the police station. He tells us with a slight air of defensiveness (and a little bit of pride, as well) that this is the very first car that he bought himself.
He’s driving like he’s on a mission, weaving in and out of traffic. He pulls into the police station and by the time we gather our bags and leave the car, he’s already filing a second contestation against Karun. Allegedly, Karun has spread rumors that Tankhun’s father was so ashamed of his decision to drop his Chinese last name that he grew sick and died. The first one was about Tankhun’s vandalized posters.
“It’s not true or relevant at all,” Tankhun says of Karun’s allegation. While he’s writing a long formal statement and taking care of paperwork, we slip out with K, his personal assistant, to grab a quick coffee.
“It’s hard to trust people, especially in politics, and especially when you’re new,” K says. “Everyone in Tankhun’s campaign team has known him for years.”
It’s a little bit past noon when Tankhun gets out of the police station, heading to the Ban Somdejchaopraya Rajabhat University in Thonburi for a lecture.
“We have 45 minutes to get there, so we have to go fast,” he says, revving the engine.
Just on time, Tankhun slips on a blazer and steps on the stage facing an auditorium full of students. He speaks to them about the usual—life, love, and the importance of education—referring to himself as P’ instead of a more formal title.
The lecture ends. We leave as fast as we came. In between saying bye to the university advisors and giving an autograph to a student who rushes right in front of him, his only rest is inside the car on the way back to his office, where we get back onto the campaign truck.
We ride with the people in blue, over a bumpy road, watching Tankhun and his team greet everyone while their loudspeaker blares out old Thai songs. Despite being a newcomer, many people support him during his on-foot campaigning.
“It’s nice to see a new face in this area. It could be a huge challenge for him since he is stranger to the locals,” says Worachard Patinuntakul, 37, a Don Muang local. “If he could really turn the Don Muang Airport into something, we could start selling things here again.”
Though most greet him with open arms, one man was not so thrilled about him being around. “It’s always the same. They always come with great promises. But nothing ever happens. I don’t even know who I am going to vote for,” he said, on the condition of anonymity.
It gets dark, and the market starts filling up. We decide that it’s time to part ways. When Tankhun sees that we’re leaving, he offers some advice:
“Watching the game and playing the game is different,” he tells us between shaking people’s hands. “But you have to do both at the same time. You have to step outside of the game to see the bigger picture and the next step.” Clae Sea and Ubonwan Kerdtongtawee
Read part II of the Campaign Trail series: A day in the life of Sunisa Lertpakawat, author of Taksin-themed books and Pheu Thai's rising star.