11 July 2024

The economic czar for several previous administrations, Somkid Jatusripitak is back in the spotlight and bidding to take the helm of the next government.

The renowned economist recently announced his readiness to be a prime ministerial candidate for the Sarng Anakot Thai Party at the next general election, tentatively scheduled for May 7.

Somkid, 69, is now chairman of the new political party, whose name translates as “Building Thailand’s Future”.

Sarng Anakot Thai was founded by Somkid’s trusted aides, the technocrat duo of Uttama Savanayana and Sontirat Sontijirawong, the party’s leader and secretary-general respectively.

A moderate option

Somkid seems to have chosen the right moment to offer himself as a choice for the country’s leader, at a time when Thai politics remains polarized and mired in conflicts.

Amid the battle for votes between rival camps who support or oppose former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Somkid is presenting his party as the choice for moderate voters.

“The political situation is very messy indeed. Money is playing a big role,” Somkid said at a party event in Bangkok on September 8.

Comparing the political scene ahead of the election to horseracing, he said parties were buying up politicians in preparation for the poll.

“There are racehorses to be bought by stables and their owners. The stables have to look for money to feed their horses. And while it’s true that these things have long existed, they have never been so glaringly obvious before now.”

Somkid added that his goal in joining Sarng Anakot Thai was not to become prime minister, but rather to help the party “drive changes that take Thailand in the right direction”.

He said that he told party colleagues to focus on winning people’s faith instead of seats in the House of Representatives.

Two decades in politics

Somkid is no stranger to politics, having taken posts in different Cabinets for over two decades.

In 1998, he co-founded the Thaksin-led Thai Rak Thai and was credited as the brains behind many of the party’s populist policies. He served as finance minister and deputy premier in charge of economic affairs in Thaksin’s two governments between 2001 and 2006. However, when the party was dissolved by court order in 2007, he and other Thai Rak Thai executives were banned from politics for five years.

Following the May 2014 military coup, the junta led by General Prayut Chan-o-cha appointed Somkid to its economic advisory board.

In August 2015, he was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs, serving in the post until July 2020. He also brought Uttama, Sontirat and other technocrats into the Prayut government.

Somkid’s technocrats established the pro-junta Palang Pracharath Party, which after the 2019 general election managed to form a government with Prayut as prime minister. However, rival factions seeking coveted ministerial posts managed to pressure Somkid and his team out of the ruling coalition in 2020.

Former DPM Somkid appointed chairman of Sarng Anakot Thai Party

Political prowess questioned

Political observers agree that Somkid’s economic performance is outstanding, but there are doubts over his political experience.

Analysts point out that as a new party making its electoral debut, Sarng Anakot Thai needs to lure incumbent MPs in order to boost its chances of winning House seats and having Somkid become the country’s next leader.

“It won’t be easy for [Somkid] to become prime minister. He is an outstanding economic administrator but weak in political management. To be a PM, you need both,” said Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University (STOU).

Tycoon-turned-politician Thaksin showed strength in both areas to become a successful head of government, he added.

So far, Sarng Anakot Thai is mainly composed of technocrats who have never contested an election. But to win an election, said Yuthaporn, political parties need support from veteran politicians and incumbent constituency MPs.

He suggested that Somkid could boost his party’s chances at the general election by luring constituency MPs from other parties to defect to Sarng Anakot Thai.

Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University, agreed that the lack of incumbent MPs was a major weakness for Somkid’s party.

He said Sarng Anakot Thai could end up winning fewer than 10 seats at the election unless it gets more incumbents to run under its banner.

“The party will only raise its profile if around 30 to 40 constituency MPs join its fold,” the analyst said.

An economist’s view

Anusorn Tamajai, an economist who chairs the Pridi Banomyong Institute, saw difficulties ahead in Somkid’s bid to become prime minister.

“So far, he has been outstanding,” said Anusorn, former dean of Rangsit University’s Faculty of Economics.

However, the next prime minister should be able to lead Thailand in various aspects — especially the economy and international affairs. The next PM must also be a champion of democracy, he added

“Ideally, the prime minister should be someone in the mold of Pridi Banomyong,” said Anusorn, citing the statesman and former PM known as the father of Thai democracy

“Despite his brief tenure in 1946, Pridi served in many ministerial posts, laying foundations for the development of modern Thailand after the 1932 Siamese Revolution.”

However, Anusorn said that PM candidates will face a huge hurdle in the shape of the 250-member Senate, which still has the power to vote on the next premier. This extra power, enshrined in the 2017 Constitution written under the junta, ensured that General Prayut was elected as PM in a joint vote by both Houses after the 2019 general election.

“The Senate may again vote for a military-backed candidate,” Anusorn pointed out.

‘A better choice than Prayut’

Another economist, who asked not to be named, said that Somkid would be a better choice to lead the country than Prayut, who also serves as the de-facto head of the government’s economic team.

“We have not seen any economic improvement [under Prayut]. The Eastern Economic Corridor [development project] has not got off the ground,” he complained.

He said that Thailand was no longer attractive to foreign investors, including those moving out of Hong Kong, who were instead heading to Singapore. And Thailand was no longer a favorite for investors in information and communications technology, he added.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk