11 July 2024

Veteran politician Wan Muhamad Noor Matha was unanimously voted in as Thailand’s new House speaker on Tuesday in an apparent compromise between the eight-party coalition’s two largest parties.

After weeks of locking horns over the speaker’s post, the Move Forward and Pheu Thai parties unexpectedly reached a last-minute deal to back the political veteran as chief of the legislature. Parties view the post of speaker, who is responsible for deciding the debate agenda in the House, as crucial to getting their policies passed into law.

Wan Noor is leader of the Prachachat Party, which has vowed to bring peace and economic development to the Deep South, where the Thai state has imposed martial law to quell a decades-long Malay-Muslim separatist movement.

Prachachat Party, the third-largest coalition partner with nine MPs, is dwarfed by coalition leaders Move Forward and Pheu Thai, who won 151 and 141 seats respectively in the May 14 election.

The House of Representatives speaker also doubles as president of the National Assembly (Parliament).

Coalition leader Move Forward settled for the first deputy House speaker’s post after its candidate Padipat Suntiphada beat United Thai Nation Party’s Wittaya Kaewparadai in a vote.

The second deputy speaker’s post, meanwhile, went to Pheu Thai’s Pichet Chuamuangphan, who was the sole candidate.

Political old hand

This is the second time that Wan Noor, 79, has held the speaker’s post in a long political career that began in 1979. He first held the post between November 1996 and June 2000.

A practicing Muslim from the Deep South, Wan Noor has also served in several Cabinet posts, including deputy PM, interior minister, transport minister and agriculture minister. He helped found the Wahdah Group comprising Muslim politicians from southern border provinces.

Wan Noor was born on May 11, 1944, in the southern Malay Muslim-majority province of Yala as the eldest of 10 siblings. He completed his early education in his home province before moving to Bangkok to finish high school at the Islamic College of Thailand. He then obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at Chulalongkorn University.

Wan Noor began his teaching career at Narathiwat’s Attarkiah Islamiah Institute as a graduate in his early 20s. He eventually became headmaster of the institute.

In 1969, he moved to lecture at Songkhla Teachers College, which later became Songkhla Rajabhat University. Six years later, he became a professor of education at Srinakharinwirot University Songkhla, which is now Thaksin University. He also lectured at Prince of Songkla University’s Faculty of Education. In 1978, he was appointed vice president of Songkhla Teachers College.

Wan Noor made his political debut the following year, after being elected as an MP for his home province under the banner of the now-defunct Social Action Party (SAP).

Uphill task to demilitarize and decentralize Thailand’s deep South for lasting peace 

11-time MP

He has been re-elected 10 times in a political career that spans six decades. At the last election in May, the political veteran was elected as party-list MP.

Wan Noor has been affiliated with many parties during the course of his long political career. After leaving SAP, he joined the Democrat Party in 1986, before co-founding the People’s Party in 1988 along with other Democrat dissidents, and then moving to the Solidarity Party after a merger the following year.

In 1992, he switched to the New Aspiration Party, which was founded and led by former Army commander-in-chief General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

In 2002, Wan Noor moved to the Thai Rak Thai Party, which absorbed New Aspiration and was led by tycoon-turned-politician Thaksin Shinawatra.

After serving as New Aspiration’s secretary-general, Wan Noor became Thai Rak Thai’s deputy leader.

Under the Thaksin government (2001-2006), Wan Noor served as deputy prime minister, interior minister, and agriculture and cooperatives minister.

After Thaksin’s administration was ousted in a military coup in September 2006, Thai Rak Thai was dissolved by court order for electoral fraud, with all 111 of its executives banned from politics for five years. Wan Noor was among the banned politicians.

After the ban expired, he joined Pheu Thai, which is viewed as Thaksin’s proxy party. He was elected as a Pheu Thai party-list MP in the 2014 general election, but the poll was declared void by the Constitutional Court because nationwide voting was disrupted and could not be completed in one day.

In 2019, Wan Noor contested under the banner of Prachachat Party, which is viewed as Pheu Thai’s sister party. Prachachat’s stronghold is in the Deep South, where Pheu Thai is not popular.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk