August 23, 2023
BANGKOK – After weeks of political struggle, Thailand’s Parliament has finally chosen its new prime minister, former real estate magnate Srettha Thavisin.
The 61-year-old, who has little political experience, is set to head an intended government coalition of populists and pro-military parties in South-east Asia’s second-largest economy.
Mr Srettha, who stepped down as the chief executive officer of property developer Sansiri to become one of Pheu Thai’s three prime minister candidates, was already known for being vocal on social matters in the online sphere years before.
He has commented on various topics, including Thailand’s social and economic inequality, climate change and geopolitics.
His background as a successful businessman who helped build Sansiri has made him a favourite among the private sector leaders. The family business specialises in luxury residential projects and is one of Thailand’s largest property developers and worth billions of baht.
Pheu Thai has emphasised his business acumen and, by extension, his ability to steer the Thai economy in its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Srettha also enjoys popularity among the younger electorate for his public criticism of the outgoing administration’s handling of the economy and the 2020 youth-led protests.
As Thailand’s 30th prime minister, he takes over from former coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, who was caretaker premier for almost a decade.
In a long-awaited parliamentary sitting on Tuesday, more than three months after the May 14 election, lawmakers voted in favour of Mr Srettha, the sole candidate put forth for the vote. He received 482 or two-third of the votes, including about 150 votes from the military-appointed Senate.
Pheu Thai’s other candidates were Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the 37-year-old daughter of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and chief party strategist Chaikasem Nitisiri, 74.
In the lead-up to the vote, Mr Srettha faced growing allegations of tax evasion and unethical business deals during his time at Sansiri. He and the company have denied the accusations.
Mr Srettha had said in previous interviews that he wants to be a prime minister that makes a difference. He had also said that he was not a loyalist of former PM Thaksin Shinwatra, who returned to Thailand just hours before he was voted in on Tuesday.
Pheu Thai’s recent decision to include pro-military parties in its planned government coalition has forced senior party figures like Mr Srettha to retract earlier pledges that they would not partner such factions. They have justified the move as necessary for Pheu Thai to successfully lead the next government.
The partnership across the political aisle comes nearly a decade after some members of the pro-military parties lent their support to the 2014 coup that toppled the Pheu Thai-led government. The government was at the time helmed by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.
Mr Srettha has been a vocal proponent of Pheu Thai’s economic policies, including its controversial election promise to distribute digital cash handouts of 10,000 baht (S$387) to each person aged 16 and above.
He earned a degree in civil engineering from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. He also has an economics degree from the University of Massachusetts and a Master of Business Administration from Claremont Graduate School in the United States.
He is married to anti-ageing specialist, Dr Pakpilai Thavisin. The couple have three adult children.
A fan of Liverpool FC in the English Premier League, Mr Srettha led Bangkok-based Sansiri for decades, before resigning as president and chief executive in April.