Pirapan Salirathavibhaga: The ruling party peace-broker tipped for PM candidacy
Former justice minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga is making waves in the ruling Palang Pracharath Party after being appointed as advisor to powerful party leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.
Key party figures describe the political veteran – who is also an advisor to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha – as an important liaison between the PM and Gen Prawit, amid their souring ties.
However, analysts view Pirapan as Prayut’s “eyes and ears” in the ruling party, since the premier is neither a member nor an executive of the party.
Another PM candidate?
Discontent is brewing among some ruling-party elements over rumors that this “newcomer” is likely to become its second prime ministerial candidate after Prayut in the next election.
Analysts say Pirapan could even become the party’s main PM candidate should Prayut drop out of the running or suffer a “political accident” – a reference to the Constitution’s ban on holding the top job for more than eight years.
Pirapan’s appointment to a key party post and his potential to become PM candidate have made him a target for some elements within Palang Pracharath. Among them is Bangkok MP Sira Jenjaka, who suggested Pirapan lacked the seniority required to become a prime ministerial candidate.
“Pirapan is a new party member. He’s like a newly ordained monk whose position is lower than senior monks,” said Sira.
Some key party figures, however, are playing down the growing discontent over Pirapan’s rise.
“That is just someone’s opinion,” said party heavyweight Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin.
“In the end, everybody has to follow the rules and the party leader’s policy.”
Pirapan, 62, maybe a newbie in Palang Pracharath, but his political career began more than two decades ago – well before the party was founded in 2018. He was first elected as a Bangkok MP in 1996 before being re-elected several times – always under the Democrat Party banner.
Old boys’ network
Gen Prawit, who is also deputy prime minister, revealed recently that he has maintained close ties with Pirapan since the time they served together in Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Cabinet from 2008 to 2011. Prawit served as defense minister and Pirapan as justice minister.
However, their relationship actually began long before they entered politics.
Both studied at the all-boys Saint Gabriel’s College. Though Prawit was Pirapan’s senior by many years, both were part of an alumni network that also included former Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong, who is now a deputy to the Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau, which oversees day-to-day operations of the Palace.
Rumors have it that Apirat helped get fellow alumnus Pirapan his advisory job at Government House after the latter left the Democrat Party in 2019.
Pirapan is now one of two advisors to Gen Prawit – the other being Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin, who earlier lost his post as the party’s chief strategist.
Prawit has dismissed rumors that Pirapan was “dispatched” by PM Prayut.
“He [Pirapan] works for the party, not for anyone in particular,” the Palang Pracharath leader insisted. “I have given him no special assignments, just asked him to help me with all matters.”
Pirapan, meanwhile, recently said his aim was to turn Palang Pracharath into a political institution with policy platforms that can reduce social, economic and political inequity – a mission he admits will be very challenging.
Born on February 21, 1959, Pirapan graduated with a Bachelor’s in Law from Thammasat University. He received his Master of Laws (LLM) and Master of Comparative Law (MCL) degrees from Tulane University in the United States.
After years of working as a judge, Pirapan entered politics at the 1996 election as a Democrat Party candidate in Bangkok. His fellow Democrat candidates in Constituency 5 were future PM Abhisit and former finance minister Tarin Nimmanhaemin. The trio all won MP seats.
Pirapan was re-elected several times, both as a constituency MP and party-list MP for the Democrats.
In December 2008, he became justice minister in the government led by Abhisit. Pirapan was re-elected as party-list MP at the last general election, in March 2019, joining the coalition government as a Democrat.
However, he quit the Democrats in December that year, more than six months after losing the race for party leader after Abhisit stepped down. Pirapan trailed closely behind the winner and current party leader Jurin Laksanawisit in an internal vote in May 2019.
Just over a week after he quit the Democrat Party, Pirapan was named advisor to PM Prayut.
He chaired a government committee tasked with studying amendments to the Constitution. He also sat on a “superboard” tasked with planning the rehabilitation of financially ailing national carrier Thai Airways International.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk