THE country’s most popular politician, Thaksin Shinawatra, hasn’t set foot in the country since 2008. Now his 36-year-old daughter is the latest family member seeking to push back against the military men that helped oust him – and potentially bring him home.
Ahead of an election on May 14, Paetongtarn Shinawatra has drawn big crowds in rural Thai farming communities that have long served as the political base of her father.
The 73-year-old ex-prime minister and telecom tycoon, who fled in the wake of a military coup against his government, has seen his party and allies win the most seats in every national vote since 2001.
On a recent morning in Thailand’s northeast – its poorest and most populous region – thousands of red-shirted supporters of Paetongtarn’s Pheu Thai party greeted her. When she asked if they remembered her dad, the crowd erupted.
She also referred to her aunt, Yingluck Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2014 coup by Prayut Chan-o-cha – a former army chief who has ruled Thailand ever since.
“Two coups, and two good people have had to flee the country. This time, can I ask you to deliver Pheu Thai a landslide win?” Paetongtarn asked supporters.
The youngest of Thaksin’s three children, Paetongtarn is the latest face of a Shinawatra clan that has dominated elections but routinely been booted out of office.
After Paetongtarn’s debut with Pheu Thai in 2021, Prayut was asked by reporters what he thought of her entering politics. His reply: “Who?”
But Paetongtarn rose quickly in the polls and now has a healthy lead over Prayut. A survey released this month found that she was the top choice of voters at 38.2%, more than double the support for Prayut.
Right now, it’s unclear if Pheu Thai or Paetongtarn can even take power if it wins the most seats. A constitution drafted after the last coup allows the 250-member Senate, a body stacked with allies from the military establishment, to vote for prime minister until 2024.
That means Pheu Thai needs to win at least 376 seats in the 500- member House of Representatives to counter the Senate’s likely move to block its final candidate for prime minister. — Bloomberg