11 July 2024

Speculation is rife that property tycoon Srettha Thavisin will be one of three prime ministerial candidates put forward by the Pheu Thai Party at the next general election.

Sources from the biggest opposition party hinted that Srettha, president and chief executive of Thailand’s leading real estate developer, Sansiri Plc, is being “seriously considered” by Pheu Thai for the national vote, tentatively scheduled for May 7, 2023, by the Election Commission.

He is likely to join the existing surefire candidate from the Pheu Thai stable, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of party patriarch and former prime minister Thaksin. It is unclear if Pheu Thai leader Chonlanan Srikaew will be its third PM candidate.

‘I have no conditions at all’ 

Srettha, 59, has neither confirmed nor denied the speculation but has not ruled out the possibility of becoming a Pheu Thai PM candidate.

When asked last week what his conditions would be if he was approached by the party, Srettha said: “I have no conditions at all. But the country must come first. Today many people are concerned about the economy and inequality.”

Thailand needs to “create hope and inspiration” for young people, he said in his article headlined “Thailand: This is Our Future”, published in the Matichon newspaper last Sunday (October 23).

“As a stakeholder in this country, I want Thailand to be a place of rights and liberties to enhance hope and inspiration for young people. No matter what, Thailand is the future of us all,” he wrote.

Strong business background 

Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, reckons Srettha is likely to be a Pheu Thai PM candidate along with Paetongtarn.

“Several parties are touting well-known people with business backgrounds as their prime ministerial candidates to emphasize the government’s weakness in handling economic problems,” he said.

Sarng Anakot Thai Party recently appointed as its chairman former deputy prime minister and economic czar Somkid Jatusripitak, who is expected to become its PM candidate for the election.

Former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij is expected to become Chart Pattana Kla’s nomination for PM after recently being elected as leader of the party.

Yuthaporn said it would not be surprising to see Srettha become Pheu Thai’s candidate as he has had close ties with the party ever since it headed Yingluck Shinawatra’s government.

However, he added that Srettha is a fresh face in politics and does not have Somkid or Korn’s high-level experience in tackling economic issues.

Thaksin’s daughter ‘a better choice’

The analyst expects Pheu Thai to nominate both Srettha and Paetongtarn as its PM candidates but said the latter would be a better choice.

“Paetongtarn is [a proxy of] Thaksin. Having his daughter as a PM candidate may give party politicians who are considering defection cause to rethink. It could even lure defectors back to the party,” said Yuthaporn.

“Paetongtarn’s nomination could convince them that Thaksin is fully behind the party [as it contests the next election]. And that would see backing from party supporters intensify,” he added.

Other observers may think Srettha is the better choice since he could distance the party from Thaksin and the Shinawatra family, but Yuthaporn argued that Srettha is unlikely to do so while running under the Pheu Thai banner.

Respected business leader

To his supporters, Srettha is a respected business leader with the courage to criticize government policies, particularly regarding social inequality. They recognize him as an experienced executive with a firm grasp of Thailand’s economic situation.

Surapong Suebwonglee, a former Pheu Thai senior figure and now a member of its think tank, CARE, said recently that Srettha could easily defeat the incumbent Prayut Chan-o-cha as he is far better qualified to be prime minister.

Surapong, who served in Thaksin’s government over 15 years ago and has remained in his close circle, often appears in CARE’s online forum featuring the ousted prime minister on the Clubhouse social app.

Targeting a young audience

Srettha often expresses his views on social media channels, particularly Twitter, about what should be done to address certain economic, social and even political issues. He seems to be targeting young Thais with his messages by sending them via their preferred social networking channels.

Over the past two years, he seems to have expanded beyond social media in his efforts to publicize his views. He often appears in panel discussions and seminars on economic and political matters, while also giving occasional live interviews with online media outlets.

Some observers say Srettha’s profile is similar to that of Thaksin before his entry into politics – a business leader who dares to speak out and make quick decisions while focusing on the economy in tackling the country’s problems.

Tackling inequality is the key

Srettha once suggested that reducing inequality should become a national agenda to help narrow the social and income gaps.

“Inequality is the cause of most problems in the world. Is it so difficult to coexist equally? Equality should instead bring sustainable happiness,” he said.

He warned that if the inequality issue is ignored, sustainable solutions to the country’s social problems would be impossible even with a strong economy.

Born on February 15, 1963, Srettha received a Master’s in Business Administration from Claremont Graduate University in the US. He began his career as an assistant product manager at consumer goods giant P&G Thailand before shifting to the real estate sector.

He is married to Dr Pakpilai Thavisin, a specialist in anti-aging medicine. They have three children.

Srettha has been with Sansiri since its birth in 1994, serving as a director in its multiple subsidiaries. The company went public in November 1995 and was listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand in July 1996.

Sansiri is now one of Thailand’s largest property developers, with revenue of 29.7 billion baht and profits of over 2 billion baht last year. It has developed more than 400 projects in 20 provinces across the country.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk