The giant-killer of Thai politics, Ruangkrai Leekitwattana takes aim at new target
Politics is a game where there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests. The old saying was proved true again recently when veteran politician Ruangkrai Leekitwattana switched from the opposition camp to join the ruling Palang Pracharath Party.
The former Pheu Thai member defected over a month ago and was quickly appointed to the committee vetting the 2022 budget bill under Palang Pracharath’s quota, becoming committee spokesman.
Ruangkrai’s educational background and experience in drafting budgetary plans apparently make him a good fit for the panel.
One reason he was chosen for the committee was to defend the budget and counter scrutiny from opposition members.
Chopping down PM Samak
The 59-year-old politician is known as a prolific petitioner who has played a major role in scrutinizing key government figures, including prime ministers and opposition leaders.
His biggest achievement was the 2008 Constitutional Court case he filed against then-prime minister Samak Sundaravej, accusing him of a conflict of interest by hosting a TV cooking show. The court ruled to remove Samak, who was also the leader of now-defunct People’s Power Party, which backed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, from office in September that year.
Ruangkrai’s crusades have since earned him the title “Jack the Giant Slayer”.
He was also a staunch critic of the “three Ps” – Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, and Interior Minister Gen Anupong “Pok” Paochinda. In February, Ruangkrai asked the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to investigate asset declarations by Prayut and Anupong, and whether Prawit had declared his luxury watch collection.
The former senator also petitioned the NACC to investigate a Constitution Court ruling that cleared Prayut of wrongdoing over his stay in an Army residence while prime minister.
After quitting Pheu Thai following a power struggle last year, he also filed assets cases against leaders of his former party, in what was seen as revenge.
He accused Pheu Thai chief and opposition leader Sompong Amornvivat of failing to declare Buddha statues in his office along with watches and necklaces he was seen wearing. He also claimed Pheu Thai deputy leader Yutthapong Charatsathien had failed to declare an expensive watch.
However, the NACC is also probing Ruangkrai’s own assets, which rose from Bt120 million to Bt154 million during the three years he spent as a senator 10 years ago.
From foe to friend of Thaksin
Ruangkrai’s defection came as no surprise to some observers. In fact, Palang Pracharath is the third party he has joined so far, after Pheu Thai and the now-defunct Thai Raksa Chart.
The Buri Ram native graduated with a bachelor’s and a master’s in accountancy. Before entering politics, he worked as an adviser to auditor-general Khunying Jaruvan Maintaka, who was known as a graft-buster and played a major role in investigating corruption in Thaksin’s government.
Ruangkrai lost his first election for the Senate in 2006 but two years later was appointed as a senator under the 2007 Constitution sponsored by the 2006 coup-makers. He was among the yellow-shirt “Group of 40” Senate faction that opposed the Shinawatra family and its parties.
He turned from Thaksin’s foe to the former PM’s friend after the 2010 military crackdown on red-shirt protesters. He was spotted at several seminars and rallies organized by Thaksin supporters. He became a Pheu Thai party-list candidate for the 2014 election, but the poll was nullified by court order.
Ruangkrai was approached by Pheu Thai for help with legal matters and filing petitions. He said he had little alternative when he decided to join the party.
He explained that Pheu Thai harboured no ill-feeling about his role in ousting Samak but the Democrat Party might distrust him over his appearances on red-shirt rally stages. Meanwhile, the anti-Shinawatra movement led by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee might reject him as he had opposed the closure of airports by yellow-shirt rallies.
In 2018, he quit Pheu Thai to join its offshoot Thai Raksa Chart. But after that party was dissolved just before the 2019 election, he returned to Pheu Thai. His name was listed among Pheu Thai’s quota for the committee vetting the 2021 budget bill, but then abruptly removed after a power shift in the party. He promptly quit Pheu Thai.
Prayut govt breathes sigh of relief
With such a staunch critic inside its ruling party, the Prayut administration can expect to avoid further challenges from Ruangkrai, who is likely to switch his scrutiny to the government’s rivals instead.
The onetime critic of Prayut insisted he would continue his role probing both government and opposition, but warned his priority would be Pheu Thai as he remained bitter towards the party.
“I can still work in any party or position,” Ruangkrai said after being introduced as a Palang Pracharath member. “I’m a cat who can catch any colour of mice, as long as it benefits the people.”
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk