6 June 2024

Former red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikuar quit the Pheu Thai Party last week in protest against its move to form a coalition government with military-backed parties linked with the 2014 coup.

The politician said that he opposed Pheu Thai’s decision to “share power with the military” and “cannot go along with the party”.

Nattawut, 48, previously served as director of the Pheu Thai Family – a post apparently created especially for him after he rejoined the party in June last year. He also helped with Pheu Thai’s campaign for the May 14 election.

His break with the party came just a day before Parliament voted to elect Pheu Thai’s Srettha Thavisin as Thailand’s next prime minister. Nattawut explained he was quitting because he had promised party supporters before the election that Pheu Thai would not work with Palang Pracharath or United Thai Nation parties.

Palang Pracharath is led by General Prawit Wongsuwan while United Thai Nation nominated General Prayut Chan-o-cha as its PM candidate. Prayut led the post-coup junta and Prawit was his deputy premier and defense minister.

Born public speaker

Nattawut was born on June 4, 1975, in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat. He received a bachelor’s degree in communication arts from Dhurakij Pundit University and a master’s in public and private management from the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA).

A natural public speaker, Nattawut was a champion debater during his school years and gave his first political campaign speech at the tender age of 16. His schoolmates reportedly vied to have him on their teams for class presentations. As his reputation grew, the young orator found he could make a living with his natural gifts. Before entering politics over two decades ago, Nattawut earned as much as 30,000 baht for an appearance on stage, according to the New Mandala website.

Nattawut first entered politics at the 2001 general election, contesting under the Chart Pattana Party banner in his home province but failing to win the seat.

He later switched to Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party, winning an MP seat at the ill-fated general election in 2006. Thaksin, newly returned to face jail time for convictions stemming from his time as PM from 2001 to 2006, is the patriarch of Pheu Thai.

Blocked by a coup

However, the military coup in September 2006 ruined the start of Nattawut’s political career as it ousted not only Thaksin’s government but also the elected House of Representatives.

In response, Nattawut joined several other Thai Rak Thai politicians including Jatuporn Prompan and Veera Musikapong to form a group called the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship (DAAD), whose red-shirted followers rallied against the coup-makers and the junta led by General Surayud Chulanont.

Nattawut and his fellow red-shirt leaders from the South, Jatuporn and Veera, also helped launch the People’s Television (PTV) satellite channel in 2007 and hosted the influential “Truth Today” talk show in 2008 during the Samak Sundaravej government, which was viewed as a Thaksin proxy.

Nattawut was appointed deputy spokesman of Samak’s government. He later served briefly as the spokesman for the short-lived Somchai Wongsawat government between October and December 2008.

DAAD, which consisted mainly of Thaksin’s red-shirt supporters, was renamed the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and led street protests against the Democrat-led government of Abhisit Vejjajiva in 2009 and 2010. The protests ended in a crackdown by security forces that left almost 100 dead.

Axed by another coup

Nattawut was elected as a Pheu Thai party-list MP in the 2011 general election. In the resulting Pheu Thai-led government of Yingluck Shinawatra, he served as deputy agriculture minister from January to October 2012, and deputy commerce minister from October 2012 to May 2014, when the administration was toppled by another military coup.

In June 2020, the Supreme Court sentenced Nattawut and four fellow red-shirt leaders to two years and eight months in prison each for leading a violent protest in July 2007 at the residence of General Prem Tinsulanonda, who was then president of the Privy Council, or chief adviser to Rama IX.

The top court found the defendants guilty of illegal assembly and using violence to resist police orders, upholding convictions by lower courts.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk