Chadchart Sittipunt: A reluctant prime minister candidate?
Chadchart Sittipunt is featuring highly in popularity polls, being in many cases neck and neck with strong favourite Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. Of the current crop of leading prime ministerial candidates, the Pheu Thai nominee may be the least “politicised” one.
His rise to the party’s forefront has raised many people’s eyebrows, given his political clout. But his popularity is undisputed. The academic-turned-politician has been widely known in the social media for a long time, thanks largely to his performance as the transport minister in the Yingluck government. At that time, Chadchart somehow managed to earn fame for himself as “the strongest minister of this land” among Thai netizens for his physical build.
Chadchart, 52, was an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Engineering. He also served as the university’s assistant rector.
In 2012, he joined the Pheu Thai-led government at the invitation of then-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra – first as deputy transport minister and later as transport minister.
A few years earlier, he had served as an adviser on transport matters in the Thaksin and Samak governments.
After the coup in May 2014, Chadchart sat in a committee that included representatives from conflicting parties, as part of a reconciliation effort brokered by the Internal Security Operations Command. In September 2017, he was appointed by the junta to the government’s national strategy committee on the country’s competitiveness, but he quit shortly afterwards.
His business records can overshadow those of most Thai politicians. Among the key posts are presidency and CEO at Quality Houses Public Co, Ltd. He held the position of Structural Engineer at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP. He also received an undergraduate degree and an MBA from Chulalongkorn, a graduate degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctoerate from the University of Illinois.
He is definitely well known among the middle class in Bangkok and urban areas in the provinces. But he is not a familiar name among rural voters, something that he and the party are well aware of, hence the nomination of Sudarat Keyuraphan alongside his by the Pheu Thai Party.
Chadchart has been described by many voters, in the highly divisive atmosphere of Thai politics, as “difficult to dislike”. However, being a key player now in one camp of the polarized national politics, he can expect all kinds of political storms in the next few weeks.
The fate suffered by Thai Raksa Chart Party may have hampered his and Sudarat’s chances after the general election. But a few months ago nobody would have thought of him as a prime ministerial candidate. That is an achievement in itself.