21 July 2024

Move Forward Party’s Padipat Suntiphada is focused on one thing as he prepares to take over as House speaker and Parliament president – being “different” in a positive way.

“I will lead a Parliament that people can be proud of,” Padipat said during a recent television interview. “I will dream big and push for my goals over the next four years.”

Though his appointment is not yet set in stone, recent rumors suggest that his party’s biggest coalition ally – Pheu Thai – has agreed not to compete for the position.

The dual post of speaker and Parliament president carries important powers, deciding the agenda for debate in the House and also submitting the name of the new prime minister for royal endorsement.

In 1992, Chart Thai Party chief Somboon Rahong failed to get the PM’s post despite support from other government parties because then-Parliament president Dr Arthit Ourairat proposed Anand Panyarachun as the interim premier instead.

Ready for the job?

Padipat, 42, is a youngster compared with Chuan Leekpai, who served as Parliament president for the past four years. Chuan, 85, is a veteran politician who was first elected as an MP in 1969. He has enjoyed stints as both prime minister and opposition leader in a career that has spanned seven decades.

However, Padipat will not be the youngest House speaker. That distinction belongs to Uthai Pimchaichon, who was just 38 when he was appointed in 1976.

The liberal Move Forward Party has thrown its full support behind Padipat, who was first elected as an MP with Move Forward’s predecessor, the now-dissolved Future Forward Party, in 2019. After Future Forward was disbanded by the Constitutional Court in 2020, Padipat and most of its other MPs moved to Move Forward.

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Practicing Christian and veterinarian

Born in 1981, Padipat grew up in Phitsanulok province and attended Phitsanulok Pittayakom School. He moved to Bangkok to study at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Veterinary Science before working as a vet for about two years. His time working with animals earned him the moniker “Mor Ong” or Dr Ong.

However, Padipat also has a strong faith, which spurred him to work at the Thai Christian Students Association from 2005 to 2018, where he addressed youth-related and social problems. He also took a master’s degree in theology from Singapore.

Political career

Padipat jumped into politics in 2019, registering as an MP candidate in his hometown of Phitsanulok. Running under the Future Forward banner, he successfully beat strong rivals including the incumbent, Dr Warong Dechgitvigrom, who had held the post for three terms.

Padipat had a reputation for working tirelessly during his first term as an MP. By late 2020, he had earned a name for himself by speaking up to demand that Parliament be a safe space for discussions on reform of the monarchy.

He also raised questions over the Prayut Chan-o-cha government’s alleged cover-up of an African swine fever outbreak in Thailand, as well as a corruption-plagued military welfare project that triggered a deadly mass shooting by a soldier in Nakhon Ratchasima.

Between 2019 and 2021, Padipat chaired the House Committee on Political Development, Mass Communications and Public Participation. In 2022, he chaired a House subcommittee studying the impact of the lese majeste law on media and the public.

Padipat has strongly supported Move Forward’s stance on most topics – but he has refused to back its push for an equal marriage bill that would recognize gay couples. When the House called a vote on the bill’s first reading last year, Padipat abstained. He said the decision was motivated by his beliefs as a devout Christian.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk