The arrival hall at Ubon Ratchathani military-civilian airport was packed when the delegation from Bangkok arrived, with more than 2,000 people dressed in red shirts – a symbol of support for ousted populist leader Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck.
The recent scene in northeast Thailand appeared to be a show of strength for delegation member Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Thaksin’s youngest daughter, who was promoted to the country’s largest opposition Pheu Thai party. to rely on the surname which has influenced national politics since 2001.
“Do you miss the godfather? My father and my aunt send their greetings to the Si Saket people! Paetongtarn said in the local Isaan dialect during a later encounter in a neighboring province.
“My father always says he was a country boy who, like many others, lacked opportunities. I think rural people have great potential, but I wonder why they are still poor. Why do governments elected officials overthrown by coups?
Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck, were ousted from the prime minister’s office by military coups in 2006 and 2014, respectively.
Paetongtarn, 35, recently topped a respected quarterly opinion poll by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), a Bangkok-based university.
In phone interviews with 2,500 adults of various occupations, income levels and education across the country, more than a quarter of respondents said she would be the top candidate in the upcoming general election to be held. by March 2023, according to NIDA.
Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the progressive Move Forward party, the second largest in the opposition, came third, followed by ‘no choice’ in second place. Incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who came to power after the 2014 coup, was a distant fourth, with just 11.68% backing him, according to the survey released earlier this week.
In the previous NIDA survey in March, Paetongtarn finished fourth.
In the most recent poll, among political parties, Pheu Thai was the first choice for 36% of respondents. The Move Forward came third with 18%, just one point behind “no choice”. Prayuth’s Palang Pracharat finished fourth with 7% support.
Who is Paetontarn?
Paetongtarn dubs herself the “little girl” of Thaksin, who appears regularly on her Instagram and Facebook pages, which have nearly a million followers.
Born in the United States, she grew up in Thailand and graduated in political science from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Paetongtarn studied for a Masters in Hospitality Management at the University of Surrey in England and has lived a high-profile life since then, running his family’s hotel business and being featured in glossy magazines.
Since his self-exile, billionaire patriarch Thaksin, 72, has regularly engaged on social media with his followers under his pseudonym “Tony Woodsome” and has expressed a desire to “come home”. Since Thaksin’s ousting in a 2006 coup, military and ultra-royalist elites have worked to dismantle his political machine with little success, experts said.
Thaksin and Yingluck were both sentenced to prison in absentia for abuse of power, negligence and corruption, following what they claim are politically motivated prosecutions.
The latest iteration of the Pheu Thai party is the largest party in parliament after the 2019 general election, with 136 seats out of 500. It was unable to form the government because Prayuth relied on the Senate and a coalition at the House to support him as Prime Minister.
In October 2021, Paetongtarn was appointed chief adviser on participation and innovation, her first role in the party. In March, the party introduced her as head of the Pheu Thai family, a component of the party. Since then, she has campaigned and participated in Pheu Thai awareness programs.
Many supporters said she was raised to appeal to younger voters. In the NIDA poll, participants cited Pheu Thai policies, the past work of the Thaksin family and the desire for a new generation to take over as reasons for supporting her.
Prayuth, who faces his fourth no-confidence vote in July, was unimpressed with the poll results. He said voters should support candidates based on their performance, not their opinions.
“A poll is just a poll,” Prayuth said. “I work and evaluate the achievement by myself. Whether people like my work depends on them. I serve everyone and perform my duties without bias.
General Prawit Wongsuwan, deputy prime minister and leader of the Palang Pracharat party, acknowledged the coalition’s “decline in popularity” but said he was not worried.
“We can fix it. All members must be united and cooperate. … The poll result is what it is. It’s up to the people,” he said.
“We haven’t seen her”
As the election nears, Yingcheep Atchanont, a lawyer and program officer at local NGO iLaw, said a vote for Paetongtarn was not just for her, but for the party.
“We haven’t seen her in a decade…we haven’t seen her role in public at all,” Yingcheep told BenarNews. “But it’s no surprise that her name comes up now because we know she and other members of her family are interested in politics.
“Anyone who looks smart enough and is nominated by the Pheu Thai party would be very popular. Whoever Pheu Thai proposes will probably be elected in the poll as the best candidate for the post of Prime Minister.
Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the faculty of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University, told Thai PBS in October that the elevation of Paetongtarn showed the Shinawatra family claiming “ownership” of the party, a practice typical of Thai political dynasties. .
A Thai senator, meanwhile, said Paetongtarn should not be the next prime minister even if the Pheu Thai wins the next election, warning that his “political ambitions could end the same way as his predecessors”.
Appointing the prime minister is not the same as choosing an executive in a business firm, said Wanchai Sornsiri, a senator and law professor appointed by the junta. In a Facebook post, he warned that Paetongtarn had never been elected to public office and lacked the necessary maturity.
A local Thai businessman accused Thaksin of being the puppeteer of the Pheu Thai and said that if Paetongtarn “revitalises the Shinawatras and brings Thaksin home without serving his prison sentence, history will repeat itself.
“She will face protests from most people,” Sam Sanin told BenarNews. “Thai politics is full of corrupt people, who only work for themselves and their relatives, so there will be unrest and coups again.”