September 22, 2023
BANGKOK – Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, a property tycoon-turned-politician, is a member of the Pheu Thai Party, over which the Shinawatra family’s writ runs. Since the 2014 power seizure, which was followed by five years of a post-coup junta and four years of an elected government – both led by former coup leader General Prayut Chan-o-cha – this is the first chance the Shinawatras have had to be in the corridors of power.
Many Shinawatra loyalists have become political appointees to serve under the prime minister and his Cabinet members from Pheu Thai. There are other friends of the family, who have no official positions, but they accompany Pheu Thai government ministers on their trips and at their ministries.
These people include the Shinawatras’ young family members, in-laws and friends, as well as politicians loyal to the family, many of whom failed to get elected in the May 14 general election.
Among the political appointees are some close friends of Paetongtarn Shinawatra – one of Pheu Thai’s three prime ministerial candidates and the youngest daughter of the party patriarch and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin is serving jail sentences, after convictions in corruption cases, following his return to Thailand after 15 years of self-imposed exile overseas. The ex-premier’s eight-year jail term was commuted to one year following a royal pardon. He was sent to Police General Hospital for treatment just hours after his return on a private jet on August 22.
Preparing the new generation
Political observers view the political appointments as a way to return favours and a preparation by Pheu Thai’s “young blood” under Paetongtarn’s leadership to strengthen their position in order to gain power from the old-timers in the party.
Paetongtarn, who is serving as leader of the Pheu Thai Family, is reportedly set to take over as the ruling party’s next leader, succeeding Cholnan Srikaew, who stepped down recently to assume the post of public health minister.
Paetongtarn holds no Cabinet seat, but PM Srettha appointed her as deputy chair of the newly established National Soft Power Strategy Committee, which is officially headed by the prime minister. Her new position is viewed as a channel for Paetongtarn to play her political role through the national panel.
Also, Paetongtarn’s cousins, in-laws, and friends have got new jobs in the government. Her close friend Khanapoj Joemrith, a former deputy secretary-general of Pheu Thai’s now-defunct “sister party”, Thai Raksa Chart, has been spotted accompanying PM Srettha during his New York trip to attend the United Nations General Assembly.
Sorapun Kunakornwong, the younger brother of Nuttaphong Kunakornwong, who is the husband of Paetongtarn’s sister Pintongta, has been appointed secretary to Deputy Agriculture Minister Chaiya Promma from Pheu Thai.
Chayika Wongnapachant, the daughter of Paetongtarn’s aunt Yaowares Shinawatra, has been spotted at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reportedly involved in an unofficial PR role. Her Linkedin profile says Chayika is a specialist in political marketing, public relations and foreign affairs at the Pheu Thai Party.
The ongoing developments remind political observers of several political appointments given to Shinawatra family members, their friends and cohorts while Thaksin and his proxies were in power.
During Thaksin’s tenure from 2001 to 2006, his sister Yaowapha was appointed secretary to the education minister and later an adviser to the prime minister. His other sister, Yaowares, became the head of Ubon Ratchathani Rajabhat University’s executive board.
Thaksin’s cousin General Chaiyasit Shinawatra was appointed a board member of the Sports Authority of Thailand, the Army commander-in-chief, and later the supreme commander of the armed forces.
General Uthai Shinawatra, another cousin of Thaksin, was appointed an adviser to then deputy premier and interior minister Wan Muhamad Noor Matha.
After Thaksin’s proxy Samak Sundaravej became the prime minister, Thaksin’s relative-in-law Sriyada Shinawatra was appointed secretary to the culture minister.
Under the Yingluck government, General Chaiyasit was appointed an adviser to the prime minister and Chayika became a political appointee at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Police General Priewpan Damapong, brother of Thaksin’s ex-wife Khunying Potjaman Na Pombejra, was appointed the National Police chief and a board member of the national carrier, Thai Airways International.
Also, while Thaksin and his proxies were in power, many of his former classmates from Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School and his political and business allies were rewarded with political appointments.