11 July 2024

Spareparts are usually unseen, but if you happen to need them you are glad you have them. Somkid Jatusripitak is like that. News that he would be in the Palang Pracharat Party’s prime ministerial nomination list should not overexcite anyone. The deputy prime minister should be thought of like what he really is — something that can stay out of sight forever but can be so vitally important.

A lot will depend on Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, or what happens to him. As of now, Somkid is a substitute, albeit a very good one. Analysts don’t see a great chance for Somkid, just like they don’t see how Chadchart Sittipunt can edge out Sudarat Keyuraphan to become the top prime ministerial candidate of the Pheu Thai camp. Both Somkid and Chadchart are similar in that they will not attract jeers from the public if they have to emerge into the limelight.

The difference is that while Chadchart has blended in so well with Pheu Thai, creating a sense of great harmony among himself and top pro-Thaksin politicians, Somkid has remained very enigmatic, not least because he used to serve at the forefront of Thaksin cabinets.

Under Thaksin, Somkid served as finance minister and commerce minister. He was always recognized for his economic expertise, which played a big part in why he was invited to join the Prayut government. Because of his connections to both sides of the conflict, Somkid can be forgiven for not projecting a big ambition.

He has kept a low profile politically, but will be ready when called upon, especially now that he is all but confirmed as a Palang Pracharat’s prime ministerial candidate. So far, direct attacks from the Pheu Thai camp have been rare, which suits his preference for staying behind the scene and demonstrates Pheu Thai’s realization that criticizing his economic work could backfire.

As criticism grew against four members of the Prayut Cabinet, who have only announced resignations from the government due to their membership of the Palang Pracharat Party, Somkid has been practically flying under the radar. Is protecting him part of Palang Pracharat’s strategy, as prime ministerial candidates tend to be bombarded by rivals and softened up along the way? Whatever the reason is for the “silent Somkid management”, things will never be the same after the first week of February, when parties have to announce their prime ministerial nominees.

Somkid was born in 1953 in Bangkok and grew up in a big Thai-Chinese family, being one of 10 children. His great-great grandfather immigrated from China in the early 19thcentury and could be proud of the economic and business acumen of the younger generations. One of Somkid’s older brothers, Som Jatusripitak was to become president of Siam Chity Bank and Commerce Minister in Chavalit Yongchaiyudh’s government.

Somkid went to Triam Udom Suksa School and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the Thammasat University’s Faculty of Economics in 1972. Later, he completed an MBA in Finance from the Graduate School of Business Administration (NIDA Business School) and then received a Ph.D. in marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

His early career involved a teaching position and associate professor status at NIDA Business School, of which he would become associate dean.

According to Wikipedia, Somkid’s thinking was greatly influenced by Michael Porter’s “Competitiveness of Nations.” Somkid was said to be a strong supporter of national marketing which must be backed by appropriate development policies. His well-known book “Borisat Prathet Thai” (Thailand Inc) stressed the importance of publicizing “national brand” along with promoting competitiveness.

Will he ever become Thailand’s prime minister some day? Only time will tell. The only certainty is that Thai politics has seen less glamourous personalities take over the chief executive post, a trend enhanced by the on-going political conflict.  – ThaiPBS World’s Political Desk