Chonlanan Srikaew: The medic-politician aiming to nurse Pheu Thai back to power
New Pheu Thai leader Chonlanan Srikaew appears to have acknowledged he won’t be a prime ministerial candidate for the opposition party at the next general election.
The five-time MP also agrees that political novice Paetongtarn Shinawatra – the youngest daughter of ex-premier and Pheu Thai patriarch Thaksin – will likely be one of the party’s three PM candidates.
“Our PM candidates have not [previously] included the party leader, a practice we should maintain [in the next election],” Chonlanan said. “We want to separate managing the party from running the country.”
A party tradition
Pheu Thai adopted that tradition after Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai and People’s Power parties were disbanded and their executives, including the party leader who also served as prime minister, were banned from politics.
In the 2011 general election, Pheu Thai’s PM candidate was Thaksin’s youngest sister Yingluck – who was neither leader nor an executive of the party.
Pheu Thai is not the only major party to adopt this practice. The ruling Palang Pracharath is also unlikely to see its leader, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, become the next prime minister.
Gen Prawit, 76, recently ruled out the possibility of being nominated as a prime ministerial candidate, citing health issues.
“The party leader already finds it difficult to walk,” Prawit responded, after being asked why Palang Pracharath would again nominate Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in the next election.
The ‘last gamble’
In a recent media interview, Chonlanan accepted the description of 35-year-old Paetongtarn as Pheu Thai’s “decisive trick” for the next election.
“She is now [the party’s] chief adviser on participation and innovation. If she does a good job and people want her to become a PM candidate, why not?”
Paetongtarn announced her appointment during a surprise appearance at Pheu Thai’s general meeting in the northeastern Khon Kaen province last Thursday (Oct 28).
Critics described Paetongtarn’s political debut as Thaksin’s “final gamble” in his longstanding bid to return to Thailand as a free man after having been sentenced to jail for power abuse and corruption. In 2013, a blanket amnesty endorsed by Yingluck’s government to pardon political offenders triggered mass protests and turmoil that culminated in the 2014 coup.
Thaksin, who was ousted eight years earlier in a military coup, has lived in exile overseas since fleeing the country in 2008.
Chonlanan rejects allegations that Paetongtarn is a nominee of Thaksin, seeing them as a sign that Pheu Thai’s recent changes are terrifying its political rivals.
The new party leader added there would be nothing wrong with Paetongtarn proposing her father’s ideas for Pheu Thai.
Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of former prime minister Thaksin, made a surprise appearance at the opposition Pheu Thai Party’s general meeting in the northeastern Khon Kaen province on Thursday (Oct 28). Introduced by outgoing party leader Sompong Amornwiwat, the 35-year-old spoke briefly to announce her appointment as the party’s chief adviser on participation and innovation.
Pushed into spotlight
Up until recently, the 60-year-old Chonlanan had never been a top-ranking figure within Pheu Thai. But that changed over the past few months with the exit of party heavyweights like Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, Chaturon Chaisang and Bhokin Bhalakula.
Analysts say his relative youth compared to his 80-year-old predecessor, Sompong Amornwiwat, makes Chonlanan a good choice for the party’s new strategy to attract young voters.
Chonlanan claimed he only became aware of his selection as party leader shortly before the Khon Kaen general meeting, when an unnamed senior party figure approached to offer him the job.
Doctor turned politician
Born on June 4, 1961, in the northern province of Nan, Chonlanan graduated from Mahidol University’s Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital in 1986. He took his master’s degree in Public Administration at the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) in 1999.
After graduation from Mahidol, Chonlanan returned to his home province and practiced as a doctor at a state hospital. He later became director of another local hospital in Nan, serving in the post from 1995 to 2000.
At 39, the hospital chief left medicine to enter politics, contesting the 2001 general election in his home province as a candidate for Thai Rak Thai – which swept to power after being formed just three years earlier.
The debutant candidate won a seat in Parliament and was re-elected four times, despite Thai Rak Thai being dissolved and replaced first by People’s Power and then Pheu Thai.
Chonlanan served as deputy Pheu Thai spokesman from December 2008 to September 2010.
He was later appointed as deputy public health minister in the Yingluck government, serving from October 2012 to June 2013.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk