11 July 2024

Pol Lt-General Surachate Hakparn has risen like a phoenix from the flames this week, strutting back to the Royal Thai Police two years after he was kicked out in disgrace.

On Wednesday (March 17), a Police Commission meeting chaired by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha agreed to appoint Surachate as the force’s special adviser on strategy (Level 9).

The post – created earlier this month – is on the same level as assistant national police commissioner.

From hero to zero and back again

Surachate, now 51, rejoined the police after Prayut signed his transfer back to the force on March 9. The transfer order was a huge surprise – matching the one that transformed him from a high-ranking policeman into an inactive civil servant at the Prime Minister’s Office in 2019.

Most people assumed the first transfer had ended Surachate’s once bright police career.

But this month, he not only returned to the force; he also landed a specially created senior strategy position.

The new development indicates Surachate has a chance to climb the ranks even further – even to the very top of the police ladder.

Meteoric rise

Born to a junior policeman, Surachate grew up in the deep South’s Songkhla province. As a teenager, he enrolled in the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School’s Class 31. Later on, he joined the Royal Police Cadet Academy’s (RPCA) Class 41.

Surachate was the shining star of RPCA Class 41alumni, rising quickly through the ranks.

Appointed deputy inspector at the age of just 24, he rose to become an inspector at 30, a deputy superintendent at 34 and a superintendent at 38.

Aged 42, he became the deputy commander of Songkhla police. He simultaneously led a forward command overseeing four insurgency-hit border districts, which added to the number of years on his service record. Police officers in the insurgency-hit southern border provinces are entitled to this privilege. So, though relatively young, Surachate accumulated enough years of service to secure his meteoric rise.

He was not even 45 when he won promotion to the rank of major general. Then in 2018, at the age of 48, he was appointed chief of the Immigration Bureau.

Personality or connections?

While it is obvious that Surachate has risen fast on the career ladder, there is no clear explanation for his speedy ascent. Some sources attribute his success to his father’s attentive services for former deputy police chief Pol Lt-General Samer Damapong, the father of Thaksin Shinawatra’s ex-wife Khunying Pojaman na Pombejra. Others say the crucial factor is Surachate’s own character and achievements.

Surachate is known for his friendly, easy-going manner.

Nicknamed “Joke”, some people call him “Sweet Joke” for the way he peppers his conversation with phrases like “Yes, bro”, “Will do, bro”, “I am thinking of you”, and “Call me if you want help”.

Those diplomatic skills have been useful in defusing several high-profile and politically sensitive cases. Among them was the detention at Suvarnabhumi Airport of an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled family problems, and the Phoenix boat tragedy in Phuket that claimed the lives of dozens of Chinese tourists.

Since 2016, Surachate has also been close to Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon.

Struggle before sweet return

Following his sudden ejection from the force in 2019, Surachate raised suspicions about possible corruption in police projects. He also filed a complaint with the Central Administrative Court against Prayut over his transfer, but lost the case.

His chances of a return to the police force looked even bleaker when his car was riddled by bullets from a drive-by shooting in early 2020, with no arrests made. Surachate claimed the shooting was ordered by an influential figure but refused to reveal any names.

However, after he ordained as a monk in India early this year, word spread that he would soon be back in the police ranks.

On the home front, Surachate is married to Dr Sirinadda Hakparn – who he says was his first love.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk