The Return of Shinawatra in Thai politics?

The youngest daughter of the exiled Thai ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra is tipped to be a candidate for the prime minister in the next election, writes Purawich Watanasukh in Bangkok.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra at Pheu Thai Party meeting in Udon Thani on 20 March 2022 | Photo: Bangkok Post

At Pheu Thai Party meeting in the northeast province of Udon Thani on 20 March 2022, 35-year-old Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who lives in exile, was unveiled as the head of “Pheu Thai Family” to promote unity in the party and win the next election.

In her speech to the party executives, MPs and members, Paetongtarn hoped that Pheu Thai can expand its membership from 8 million to 14 million for a victory in the next general election "The Pheu Thai Party must not only win the election, but also be the core party in a new government so that party policy will be implemented," she said.

The event on 20 March 2022 is not the first time that Paetongtarn was introduced to the public as a potential political successor of Shinawatra family. Last October, at the Pheu Thai Party’s general assembly, Paetongtarn was appointed as the party’s chief adviser on participation and innovation, a move that was seen as the first step to introduce her to politics. After receiving great feedback from Pheu Thai supporters, particularly those who are still loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra, the event on 20 March 2022 is another step to signal Paetongtarn to be the party’s potential candidate for the prime minister in the next election.

Born in 1986, Paetongtarn is the youngest daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra, a former Thai prime minister (2001-2006) who was ousted by the 2006 military coup. She studied sociology at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand before pursuing her postgraduate degree in international hotel management from Surrey University in the UK. she is the CEO-hospitality of Rende Development, a successful businesswoman who leads the company's hospitality umbrella. On her personal life, she got married to a commercial pilot in 2018 and had one daughter.

Thaksin Shinawatra and his daughter Paetongtarn | Photo from Sanook.com

Shinawatra has been a dominant political family in Thai politics over the past decade. Starting from Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunication tycoon who entered politics and found Thai Rak Thai Party in 1998. Thaksin became a prime minister of Thailand after his party won an election in 2001. Thai Rak Thai won a landslide victory in the 2005 election and made Thaksin retained his premiership. However, he was ousted by the coup on the night of 19 September 2006, while he was in New York to give a speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

Thaksin Shinawatra during the 2001 Election campaign | Photo: Workpoint News

A year later, the People's Power Party (Palang Prachachon), a successive party of Thai Rak Thai after it was dissolved by the Constitutional Tribunal in May 2007, led by Samak Sundaravej won the 2007 election. Samak had been a prime minister for just 8 months before dismissed by the Constitutional Court. This time, Somchai Wongsawat, a Thaksin brother-in-law, was elected a new prime minister. Somchai remained in office just 2 months, the Constitutional Court again dissolved the People’s Power Party. The opposition Democrat Party successfully formed a new coalition government and made Abhisit Vejjajiva a prime minister from 2008-2011.

Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, was appointed as prime minister in September 2008 | Photo: Manager Online

In the 2011 election, Pheu Thai, the third iteration of Thai Rak Thai formed after People's Power Party was dissolved, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's youngest sister, won an election. Yingluck became the first female prime minister of Thailand. However, after an attempt to pass an amnesty bill, Yingluck faced an opposition from the PDRC. Eventually, the military junta led by Prayuth Chan-O-cha seized the power on 22 May 2014.

Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s youngest sister, was a Thai prime minister and defense minister (2011-2014) | Photo: Bloggang

In the recent 2019 Election, despite Pheu Thai won the most seats, it could not form a government. Palang Pracharath, a party sponsored by the junta to run the election, nominated Prayut Chan-O-Cha as prime minister. Due to a transitional provision of the military-backed 2017 Constitution that allowed the 250 senators appointed by the junta to jointly vote for the prime minister with the MPs, Prayut can retain his premiership until today.

On 24 March 2022, Paetongtarn gave her first ever exclusive interview with Woody Milintachinda, a well-known Thai celebrity and TV host, she stated that she is not yet ready to be a PM. However, she emphasises that there must be a change in government and Thailand must "move forward". Also, she pointed that since her father was deposed from the country, everything has never been as good as the days Thaksin is still in office. Throughout an interview, she appears to be confident and charismatic as Thaksin Shinawatra.

Under the current 2017 Constitution, a prime minister must be at least 35 years old. Political Party must submit a list of prime ministerial candidates of 3 persons maximum, which is not required to be a party member or an MP. Constitutionally, Paetongtarn can be Pheu Thai’s candidate for the prime minister in the next election. Politically, Pheu Thai Party leader Cholnan Srikaew has never denied a possibility that Paetongtarn might be a party’s candidate for the prime minister “if the people demand and support”. In the recent survey conducted between 10 and 15 March 2022, Paetongtarn is the third favorite to become the next prime minister.

Whether the next general election is held this year, if Prayut dissolves the House or calls for a new election, or next year when Prayut serves his full 4-year term, we are seeing another move by Shinawatra family coming back in Thai politics once again. Paetongtarn is being tipped as potential next Thai prime minister and political successor of Thaksin Shinawatra.

 - Asia Media Centre