11 July 2024

While a court case ousted Saksayam Chidchob as transport minister in the previous government, his formidable political networking skills mean there’s a good chance he will return to power.

On January 17, the Constitutional Court found him guilty of concealing his stake in a construction company that was awarded a contract with a state agency. This conflict of interest saw him barred from serving as transport minister for two years.

However, insiders say Saksayam has shrugged off the verdict as just another pothole in his long and bumpy political road.

Political survivor

In 2007, Saksayam was slapped with a five-year political ban as an executive of the Thai Rak Thai Party. The ban covered all political positions, yet during the prohibition he was often spotted on the political scene. In 2009, for example, he took leadership of a team of advisors for the then-interior minister.

After the ban expired in 2012, Saksayam switched his political allegiance and was named secretary-general of the Bhumjaithai Party.

Two years later, Saksayam was all set to become a party-list MP following the 2014 general election. However, political protests saw the election annulled on grounds that voting in some constituencies could not be held on election day. So, Saksayam had to bide his time.

His return to political office finally came at the 2019 election, when he became a party-list MP under the Bhumjaithai banner and was promptly appointed transport minister.

However, just as his political power was peaking, he suffered another setback during the COVID-19 pandemic. After being appointed to a government committee tasked with controlling the outbreak via lockdowns, he allegedly caught the virus himself while partying at a club in Bangkok’s Thonglor area in March 2021. A fellow MP who had initially said he accompanied Saksayam to the club later backtracked, claiming the media had got it wrong.

Controversy raged over the case, at a time when the virus was killing dozens of people per day and threatening to overwhelm the health system, while the government imposed strict lockdown measures to control its spread.

Yet despite the scandal, Saksayam managed to cling on to his job. He remained at the Transport Ministry helm until his share concealment case was sent to the Constitutional Court.

Latest scandal

The court found that Saksayam used a nominee to retain his stake in Buri Charoen Construction Limited Partnership. The company was awarded several projects from the Transport Ministry worth several billion baht in total.

Saksayam’s claim that he had sold his stake in the firm failed to convince the court.

The Constitutional Court had in fact suspended Saksayam from duties last March. Delivering the verdict, it declared that Saksayam’s tenure as transport minister had retroactively been terminated on March 1, 2023 – with the two-year suspension counted from that date.

Robust backing

Despite the blow, Saksayam’s chance of being snuffed out of politics for good is minimal given he hails from a well-connected family.

His late father Chai Chidchob, a former Parliament president, was a longstanding Buri Ram MP, having been first elected to Parliament in 1969. Saksayam’s older brother Newin Chidchob, a former veteran politician, has also remained hugely influential in the province, while his other brother, General Permpoon Chidchob, is the incumbent education minister.

Single and rich

Born on November 9, 1962, Saksayam graduated from Thammasat University’s Faculty of Political Science before receiving a master’s degree in public administration from the National Institute of Development Administration.

He worked as a deputy district chief for several years before deciding to jump into politics. Under the Thai Rak Thai banner, he was elected as MP in 2001 and again in 2005.

Saksayam is single and has 69 million baht in bank accounts and 19 plots of land worth another 34 million baht, according to his latest assets declaration. He also boasts 4.3 million baht worth of valuables like Rolex watches, rings and amulets while owning two cars worth about 2.1 million baht.

And now that his hidden stake in Buri Charoen Construction has been uncovered, his true worth must be far higher than his official declaration suggests.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk