Korn in mid of Democrats’ “soul-searching”
Because of his height and good look, Korn Chatikavanij is an outstanding man. In politics, though, he is the sort of men who let many people, including those less qualified, fly overhead. Abhisit Vejjajiva’s resignation from the Democrat Party’s helm may, however, push Korn to the forefront where he will need to mix his academic and financially knowledgeable aura with an old-fashioned political approach which is something he is less comfortable with.
In Thailand, sophistication is probably secondary when being a political party leader is concerned. Abhisit was there before, being criticised for giving his family more importance than going to unacquainted funerals, weddings and all the social functions that could reinforce the party’s image and perceived generosity. In this sense, Korn has a disadvantage in the fight for party leadership with Jurin Laksanavisit, who despite a good image is more familiar with funeral-attending politics.
But the problem is not just about going to funerals or weddings of people he did not know or barely knows. Now a caretaker deputy Democrat leader following the recent resignation of Abhisit, Korn is expected to fulfil his potentials and rebuild Thailand’s oldest political camp after a humiliating election defeat on March 24. Abhisit stepped down after the poll loss, having vowed to bow out if his party won fewer than 100 parliamentary seats.
Korn, now 55, joined the Democrat Party in 2005 at Abhisit’s invitation and has closely allied with the former party leader, who was his former schoolmate at University of Oxford. He served as a deputy party leader while Abhisit was the chief. In the Democrat-led government headed by Abhisit, Korn served as finance minister from 2008 to 2011.
He was born on February 19, 1964, in London to Kraisri and Rumpa Chatikavanij. His father was director-general of the Customs Department and the Revenue Department.
After completing primary education in Bangkok, Korn attended a boarding school in England. He later studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at University of Oxford’s St John’s College and graduated with honours. While at St John’s, one of his classmates was Abhisit, the only other Thai student there at the time.
With a prominent height of 1.93 metres, Korn became an athlete at Oxford. And, thanks to his popularity as a campus athlete, Korn once successfully campaigned for Abhisit to get elected as a student leader.
After his graduation, Korn began his career at SG Warburg merchant bank in London, where he worked for almost three years. When returning to Thailand, he was approached by controversial “financial wizard” Pin Chakkaphak to join his securities company. But Korn turned down the offer and instead set up his own securities firm, JF Thanakom, and became its president — at the age of 24.
In 2001, Korn sold all his shares in the company to JP Morgan, the American multinational investment bank now known as JP Morgan Chase. He accepted an offer for him to head JP Morgan Thailand.
After working as an investment banker for four years, Korn stepped down as chairman of JP Morgan Thailand and entered politics in 2005, at the age of 40. He left behind a monthly salary of Bt4 million to begin a new chapter of his life as a Democrat Party politician.
In the subsequent general election in February 2005, Korn won in his constituency and became one of only four Democrat candidates who got elected in Bangkok that year.
While serving in the Abhisit government, which was hit by both economic and political crises, Korn in 2010 was awarded “Finance Minister of the Year” for both global and Asia-Pacific regions by The Banker magazine, a London-based publication owned by The Financial Times. He is the only Thai to have received both awards for global and Asia-Pacific regions. “Against a backdrop of ongoing domestic political upheaval, Mr Chatikavanij has safely steered the Thai economy through the worst of the global financial crisis by rolling out a range of vigorous fiscal stimulus measures, amounting to more than $61.2 billion, as well as boosting long-term government spending on infrastructure projects,” The Banker said.
Korn is also a writer, contributing regularly to the Bangkok Post newspaper and Thai editions of Forbes and GQ magazines. His book “Dare to Do”, presenting success stories of 12 Thai entrepreneurs he interviewed, made a bestseller list in 2015.
If he beats other candidates and becomes the new party leader, Korn has a mountain to climb. In the divided political atmosphere at the present, Abhisit’s attempt to present the Democrats as a neutral, alternative force has failed. However, Abhisit’s downfall does not necessarily mean that choosing either side in the political polarity can get the party back on track. The Democrats’ situation is highly complicated, and full, genuine recovery could take years, regardless of the person at the helm. — By ThaiPBS World’s Political Desk