The speculation about who may lead a Pheu Thai government comes with the party doing well in opinion polls and after it unveiled a radical and comprehensive economic strategy last week in Bangkok. Positive opinion poll figures are being driven by the possible candidacy of Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra and the latest flag bearer for the Shinawatra political dynasty which, while generating enthusiasm among the party’s grassroots, also runs the risk of precipitating another army coup despite denials by military leaders this week.
Supporters of the move to nominate Sansiri chief Srettha Thavisin as one of the party’s nominees for prime minister say it is important that Thailand’s largest political grouping is seen as looking beyond the Shinawatra family with a disturbing increase in speculation about the possibility of another coup d’état if the 35-year-old daughter of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, is installed in the role without having sufficient prior experience in government or the day to day running of a large business organisation. The party is expected to make a formal announcement shortly, a move that will be integral to its election strategy and its ability to take up the reins of power after the next General Election.
It is being reported in circles linked with the leading opposition Pheu Thai Party that property developer and real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin is seriously being considered by the party as one of its three nominees for prime minister for the upcoming General Election.
Reports linking Mr Srettha to the role emerged in October last year but appear to have been resurrected in the light of the party’s strong showing in national opinion polls and heightened speculation that an election will be called shortly, possibly as early as next month at the end of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bangkok.
Paetongtarn Shinawatra currently spearheads the Pheu Thai Party’s popularity among the public and its active grass root base ahead of the election
In recent polls, particularly in northern Thailand, the public appears to have embraced the candidacy of Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the 35-year-old daughter of ex-premier of Thaksin Shinawatra who now spearheads a programme to unite support for the kingdom’s largest party under the ‘One Family’ working group, an appeal that appears to have been successful.
Pheu Thai have a candidate in mind with initial speculation that it is property tycoon Srettha Thavisin
Last week, at a policy unveiling in Bangkok, Ms Paetongtarn along with the party’s leader Dr Cholnan Srikaew, spoke of a new approach to the Thai economy which seemed to suggest more government involvement and the prospect of financial support for Thai workers seeking to upgrade their skills while offering more economic security.
Successful businessman with a distinctively progressive style who could lead a new approach to the Thai economy by empowering the less well off
Political observers see a link between the views of Mr Srettha who is one of Thailand’s most successful businessmen as head of the property development firm Sansiri while also being known for his progressive policy initiatives within his industry and his successful approach to business.
They think that could also be replicated in politics and as a theme for a new approach to the economy.
Mr Srettha is seen as advocating the urgent need in Thailand to create economic prosperity at the lowest levels of society and the need to urgently tackle growing social inequality which, according to the World Bank, has been on the rise in recent years while preserving and priming the kingdom’s economy for growth.
In recent days the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has only projected a growth rate of 2.8% for Thailand’s economy in 2022 making it one of the poorest performers in Southeast Asia.
Supporters of Mr Srettha’s candidacy as the Pheu Thai Party nominee for prime minister point to his position as a respected business leader, his fearless ability to criticise government policy in the past and the fact that he is someone new to politics.
Sansiri is one of Thailand’s largest property developers with assets in excess of $2 billion. It has been listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) since 1996.
Disturbing political commentary in recent weeks referencing the possibility of another coup d’état against a third Shinawatra prime minister at the helm
In recent months, a troubling sign in Thai political discourse has been vehement criticism of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family with warnings from ardent supporters of the government that the election of another Shinawatra family prime minister may precipitate a third coup against an elected administration led by the family.
This follows the ouster of Thaksin Shinawatra by the military in 2006 and the denouement of the government of Yingluck Shinawatra by a coup led by the current government leader in 2014 after Ms Shinawatra had already been deposed by order of the Constitutional Court.
Indeed, last Tuesday, General Chalermpol Srisawat, the defence forces chief was forced to clarify that the military would continue to uphold its constitutional role even in the event of a political landslide or complete change of guard after the next General Election.
The remarks came after a meeting of all the heads of the armed forces.
Encouraging words from the military this week, the same message heard before the 2006 and 2014 coups
General Chalermpol said the role of the military is clearly defined under the 2017 Constitution which provides for the development of democracy under a constitutional monarchy.
The remarks are, of course, encouraging but it must be noted that before the 2006 and 2014 coups military leaders made exactly the same pronouncements including the army chief in 2014, General Prayut Chan ocha who in August that year took on his present role after leading a coup on May 22nd despite indicating even days before the move that no such thing would happen.
Under Thailand’s constitution, each party can put forward three nominees for prime minister.
Paetongtarn Shinawatra welcomes possible Srettha Thavisin nomination as prime minister by her party
Ms Paetongtarn while the most popular choice among Pheu Thai Party supporters particularly among the voters in northern Thailand, has not had previous experience in government and last year it was reported that her father, the ex-premier, felt that she was still too inexperienced for the role although he later qualified this by saying it is time for Thailand to install younger leaders and hand over the reins to new blood.
Ms Paetongtarn herself welcomed reports last week that Mr Srettha may emerge as a Pheu Thai candidate for prime minister by saying it was time to put the country first.
‘The country and people must come first. Anyone who is capable and willing to work for people is a boon to the country. Pheu Thai is ready to support them,’ she said.
The last quarterly National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) political poll nationally showed that 21.6% of the public want to see her as the next prime minister, by far the country’s favourite choice.
Last weekend, a poll in northeastern Thailand by the same firm saw this figure rise to 36.45%.
Announcement due shortly from Pheu Thai
Prasert Jantararuangtong, the Secretary-general of the party, confirmed that deliberations on the issue are taking place and that an announcement will be made soon.
Speculation has now arisen over who may be the third candidate but the ultimate choice of who the party supports in the National Assembly vote for the role can be left until after the General Election.
A key tactical decision will be whether to indicate a preferred candidate as prime minister before the election or not.
Some local commentators argue that Mr Srettha may be a candidate who will help the party pull in more voters from across the country’s political divide which has emerged over the last two decades due to polarisation over her father’s term in office from 2001 to 2006.
Others argue that the more successful approach is to galvanise the grassroots which the involvement of Paetongtarn Shinawatra has already brought about and so generate a higher turnout for the party on polling day.
About the Author
Joseph Anthony is an expat from Ireland who has lived in Thailand for the last decade. He has worked extensively in the media including editorial positions in Ireland and Thailand. He is focused on economic and business stories in Thailand as well as the expat lifestyle.