11 July 2024

Amid all the uncertainties in the aftermath of Sunday’s general election, one man has gone virtually and mysteriously underground. Everyone’s radar, though, has been searching for Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul, whose name is outstanding on every news website currently because it was mentioned by other people involved in the vociferous race to form a coalition government.

The only confirmed activity of Anutin was the update of his Facebook. He has changed his profile into a simple mugshot made intriguing by an inserted photo of red chili. It drew quite a few comments, one of which was replied by the man of the hours. “Hot and spicy,” was what Anutin said, which coincidentally seems to describe his political rating at the moment.

On Sunday, following the viral spread of the now famous photos taken from the wedding in Hong Kong of Thaksin Shinawatra’s youngest daughter, sources associated with Bhumjaithai told ThaiPBS that siding with Pheu Thai after the election was untenable now. The sources deemed working with Pheu Thai, whose connections with Thaksin are no secret, too risky in many ways.

But things have changed since the announcement of about 95 per cent of election results. Pheu Thai, winning the biggest number of seats but significantly trailing its opponent Palang Pracharat in terms of combined nationwide votes, has needed to gather a convincing House of Representatives majority to at least rattle the Palang Pracharat camp. That, coupled with the near-impossibility of the Democrats supporting Pheu Thai, made Anutin’s stock shoot up.

Now, some sources claimed Anutin has received an extremely tempting offer. With Pheu Thai desperate to form a post-poll alliance with a clear-cut House majority, the party has allegedly offered to give Anutin the highest government post. That Anutin could become a “windfall prime minister” after the election had been discussed before, but the present situation has given a lot of weight to the pre-poll analysis.

Without Bhumjaithai, the Pheu Thai alliance should still be able to get the House majority. But when it comes to appointing a prime minister, the 250-strong Senate is provisionally empowered by the Constitution to join the House of Representatives in the crucial process. Pheu Thai’s game plan is to gather a clear-cut House majority to support its nominee, whoever that will be, to put pressure on the Senate.

Anutin would wait, it seems. The remaining five per cent of uncounted votes could change the post-election outlook significantly. He also has special connections and relations that could play a big role in his final decision. But his current status as the kingmaker is undisputed. Like Pheu Thai, the Palang Pracharat camp is needing Anutin’s party to compete shoulder-to-shoulder with the rivals. Whatever offer Palang Pracharat may have made to Bhumjaithai prior to the election must now be sweetened considerably.

That unconfirmed offer of the prime minister post by Pheu Thai aside, Bhumjaithai sources have to come out to deny rumours that Anutin had met secretly with Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan behind a military barrack.

The “Hot and Spicy” man was one of the cover boys of Forbes Thailand last year, reiterating his business status. Politically, Anutin is a former deputy minister of public health and has maintained links with northeastern former “kingmaker” Newin Chidchob. Anutin also made a name for himself as a pilot who flies for charity causes.

His business credentials include presidency of Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction, one of Thailand’s forefront construction company. He has also been on the board of Thai Solar Energy Public Co. Ltd. The list of his impressive business activities has divided opinions about the man. He has his critics, who claim he is not that different from “successful” business persons who try their hands on politics hoping to expand their clouts and thus reinforce “domination” of Thailand.

One part of his political background is being revisited by optimists and pessimists alike. It concerns the fact that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s field trip in May to Buri Ram was warmly greeted by tens of thousands of locals. Anutin and Newin were accused by critics of helping arrange the welcome and making it rosier than it should have been.