11 July 2024

Mingkwan Saengsuwan, a marketing wizard turned politician, has made yet another important turn on his political journey, in what could be a shortcut to the premiership – or a dead end for his career.

Last Tuesday (December 6), he announced his decision to join the ruling Palang Pracharath Party as head of its economic team, at a press conference also attended by its leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and key party executives.

Mingkwan also made a surprising revelation: Prawit had promised to make him one of the party’s three prime ministerial candidates. However, that declaration appeared to make Prawit and other senior party figures uncomfortable during the press conference.

Unconventional move in Thai politics

Asked to comment on the matter, Prawit said the nomination of PM candidates would be decided by the party’s executive board. That message was repeated by key party executives the next day.

Some observers saw Mingkwan’s disclosure as a smart move to secure an important berth in the party under the media spotlight. But analysts pointed out that such an unusual gesture for Thai politicians – prematurely revealing secret political deals reached behind the scenes – would likely attract animosity from colleagues towards the newcomer, resulting in pressure that could force him out of the party.

Assoc Prof Sukhum Nuansakul, a political analyst and former rector of Ramkhamhaeng University, does not expect Mingkwan’s association with the ruling party to last long. He said they may even part ways before the next election, which is tentatively scheduled for May 7.

Other observers questioned Mingkwan’s qualifications to serve as economic czar, given that his past successes mainly involved marketing and public relations. Senator Somchai Sawangkarn sees Mingkwan as Palang Pracharath’s new “brand manager”, tasked with rebranding the party.

Man of many parties

Mingkwan, 70, had already experienced life in four political parties before moving to Palang Pracharath in his latest political adventure.

He was a key figure in the People Power and Pheu Thai parties – both proxies of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra – before leading a small party called New Economics to contest the 2019 general election.

New Economics managed to win six party-list seats, which political observers credited to Mingkwan’s popularity. However, he stepped down as leader after other party MPs decided to join the coalition government led by former coup leader Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.

In February, Mingkwan announced his resignation as a New Economics MP, before setting up his own party called Okart Thai (Thai Opportunity) in June. He quietly disassociated himself from Okart Thai before joining Palang Pracharath.

From salesman to company director

Mingkwan was born in Bangkok on February 5, 1952, but grew up in the northern province of Chiang Rai. He received a bachelor’s degree in law from Chulalongkorn University and went on to complete an executive-development program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in the United States.

He began his career as a salesperson for Toyota Motors Thailand Co Ltd, climbing the corporate ladder to become senior marketing executive, PR department manager, and eventually director.

First brush with politics

Mingkwan got his first taste of politics in the early 2000s when he was appointed as adviser to then-finance minister Somkid Jatusripitak in the first Thaksin Shinawatra government. His duties involved promoting events to boost tourism.

His outstanding marketing performance appeared to impress Thaksin and saw Mingkwan appointed director of the Mass Communication Organization of Thailand (MCOT). He succeeded in rebranding the state-run broadcaster as Modernine TV (Channel 9).

In 2007, Mingkwan launched into politics in earnest. He joined People Power as head of its economic team and was elected as a party-list MP at the general election in December of that year. When Thaksin’s proxy Samak Sundaravej formed a coalition government, Mingkwan was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs. As well as heading the government’s economic team, he also served as commerce minister for six months and later as industry minister for a month.

Bitter experience with Pheu Thai

After People Power was dissolved by the Constitutional Court for election fraud, Mingkwan joined Pheu Thai in the opposition camp. He was handed the job of grilling then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party in a no-confidence vote.

However, when Pheu Thai won the 2011 election and returned to power under the premiership of Thaksin’s sister Yingluck, Mingkwan was handed neither a party nor a government role despite ranking 6th among the party-list MPs. Spurned, Mingkwan duly quit Pheu Thai in December 2013.

After a five-year break, he made his political return in 2018 as leader of New Economics, and its sole PM candidate, in the March 2019 election.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk