It is 11am on Wednesday, June 15. Chitpas Bhirombhakdi and her campaign crew are in front of a jeans shop next to Petchburi Road, waiting for the rest to arrive. Everyone is wearing light blue Democrat polo shirts sporting the party’s number 10. The MP candidate herself sports a polo in a darker shade of blue, matching trousers, pink Converse sneakers and a ponytail. When she sees us, she smiles brightly, greets us and then goes over to sit on top of an ice box. You’d never guess this casual 26-year-old is the daughter of Singha Corporation’s executive vice president Chuntinant Bhirombhakdi and ML Piyapas, an aristocrat close to HM the Queen.
It has been two years since the Singha heiress resigned from her position in the prime minister’s secretariat, over a scandal where she had been distributing copies of raunchy Leo beer calendars outside Government House. Now, as the Democrat candidate for the Dusit Ratchatewi constituency, she aims to one day become the first female prime minister of Thailand, with July 3 just the first of several election campaigns on her path to Government House’s highest office.
She speaks to us in English, with a hint of a British accent from her school days abroad. “I’m just trying the best I can,” says the King’s College graduate. “I can’t predict anything right now because everything comes down to the last week before election.”
Her aim is to cover the whole area of the constituency at least twice before the election. “I’m a new face. I have to work twice as hard,” she says.
We pause when a man wearing a red shirt conducts a one-man protest, taunting Chitpas and her crew with a Yingluck poster. The crew laughs it off, but we ask her if she finds it difficult when red shirts show up at her walk-abouts.
“Not really,” she says. “I respect that. Obviously, different people have different beliefs and opinions. If they have a question to ask me, I’m willing to answer.”
The sun is scorching at 11:30am as the last of the crew arrives, and Chitpas heads into Petchburi Soi 31 to start campaigning. She stops by all the shops that line the soi, along with Senator Poosadee Wansekumhaeng, and wais the sellers, customers and passersby, while her crew hands out flyers. People are polite and seem to be in awe of her beauty. Some people even shout out to tell her how beautiful she is.
From time to time, Chitpas wipes the sweat from her brow with a tissue as campaign trucks with faces of Chitpas and Abhisit pass by, playing look tung-style Democrat songs.
It is noon and a man comes to take photos with Chitpas, holding up his hand in a gesture of support. “My family will vote for you. You’ve got 30 votes,” he says. Later at a noodle stall, a woman gives Chitpas a bunch of pink roses. “You’ve got seven votes,” she says.
The crew decides to have a lunch break and we talk to an old woman selling fruits, who has just been greeted by Chitpas.
“I’ll be voting for the Democrats anyway,” she says. “Their campaign promises are good. They give school tuition, they give money to senior citizens. Abhisit gives us many things.”
We then point out to the many campaign cards from different parties she has posted on the wall beside her. “I just stuck them there. But I like the Democrats and I like the Prime Minister.”
After lunch, we talk to one of Chitpas’ assistants, Narissararat Srichantamitr. “I’m confident that she will win,” she says. “I see how much effort she puts in. She can get a lot of campaigning done in one day and walks a lot. People have also responded to her well. She may get criticism and people may say she’s young, but they see how well she can answer their questions.”
Despite her young age, it seems like Chitpas has been preparing for this moment for a long time. She tells us, “I’ve always been interested in politics since I was very young. But I’ve only had the opportunity to see politics from a management point of view, rather than actually working with the people. I try to tell them it’s probably time to let a new generation come in and have more involvement in politics.”
She switches to Thai, “As the government, we always get blamed whenever there are problems. I try to explain [our work] the best I can although I understand that people are frustrated. Campaigning can be tiring but there’s only three weeks left. I won’t give up.”
It is nearly 2pm. Chitpas and her crew walk to Chumchon Jarurat Tonsai, a slum down the road. The heiress does not look uncomfortable as she, Senator Poosadee and their crew navigate through the labyrinth of cramped homes, while cats and dogs scattered everywhere. They stop by a kindergarten and Chitpas greets the children, whose faces are all covered in talcum powder. She then goes to sit on a bench and check her BlackBerry. After a while they head out.
At this point we stop following them. Chitpas is going to continue campaigning down the road and then go to a military base. As the music from the campaign truck fades away, we ask a nearby Isaan food seller her views on the Democrats: “Honestly, I don’t like them,” she says. “It’s been two years and they can only do 30 percent of what they promised. Not even the Prime Minister can do anything and the economy is still bad. [Chitpas is] pretty, but I don’t know if she can actually do anything.” That’s the thing with new candidates, the only way to find out, is to give them a shot. Sasinipa Wasantapruek and Aimmarin Siritantitam
Read the finale of the Campaign Trail series: Chuvit Komolvisit: The odd one out.