11 July 2024

As the new spokesman of the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA), Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana’s first job was to defend the government’s relief measures for people affected by COVID-19.

His opening move was to dismiss claims that the measures favoured wealthy people, insisting their aim was to reduce living costs and stimulate the economy.

“I call on all sides to understand that [Prime Minister] General Prayut [Chan-o-cha] is speeding up assistance to the people,” Thanakorn said on Tuesday (June 15), just days after he was appointed.

A prominent politician from the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, the 48-year-old has regularly defended Prayut against attacks by opposition politicians and government critics, especially over the third wave of infections and stumbling vaccine rollout.

Thanakorn’s June 10 appointment was endorsed by Prayut on the same day. The new CESA spokesman is also secretary to PM’s Office Minister Anucha Nakasai.

Targeting ‘fake news’

Thanakorn thanked Prayut for trusting him and vowed to work to the best of his abilities in the new role.

“I will focus on simple communication to build strong understanding among people and fight fake news,” he said.

The “simple communication” refers to explaining the government’s fight against COVID-19 to the public, as well as its measures to rebuild the economy and restore national normalcy as soon as possible.

“The government’s strategies will certainly ease the COVID-19 situation,” said Thanakorn, who is a former spokesman for the ruling party.

CESA works alongside the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and is tasked with reviving the pandemic-hit economy. It recently endorsed Tourism Authority of Thailand’s “Phuket Sandbox”, a pilot scheme to gradually reopen Thailand to foreign tourists.

Previously, only the CCSA had spokespersons – and since its only task is to handle the public health aspect of the virus crisis, the PR team is mainly staffed by medical personnel.

Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin, an inspector-general from the Public Health Ministry, serves as CCSA spokesman alongside his two deputies – Dr Apisamai Srirangsan and Dr Panprapa Yongtrakul – who are also from the ministry.

The spokesman and his deputies have proved awkward at times when having to deal with media questions of political nature.

Naturally, they are more familiar with health issues, but lack experience in handling the political attacks raining down on CCSA and CESA from the opposition and government critics.

Filling the void

Thanakorn is expected to fill this void efficiently thanks to his many years in politics. Defending Prayut and his government became a routine task for Thanakorn, especially after being appointed secretary to the PM’s Office minister.

From August 2019 to July 2020, he served as secretary of then-finance minister Uttama Savanayana and was also spokesperson for Palang Pracharath from November 2019 to July 2020.

Last August, Thanakorn became a candidate to replace Narumon Pinyosinwat as the government spokesman after she was appointed deputy labour minister. But he failed to get the position.

Born on May 19, 1973, Thanakorn graduated with a bachelor’s in mass communications from Krirk University and a master’s in political science from Ramkhamhaeng University. He then took a doctorate in public administration at Western University in Pathum Thani.

Thanakorn made his political debut in 2007 when he joined the now-defunct Matchima Thippatai Party, which was dissolved by court for electoral fraud a year later. He then moved to Bhumjaithai in 2008 only to leave the party six years later.

He joined Palang Pracharath shortly after it launched in 2018 and contested the 2019 general election as a party-list candidate but failed to win a seat in Parliament. His previous attempts to get elected as an MP, in the 2007 and 2011 elections, also ended in failure.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk