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Tracking the growing Shinawatra influence in new Thai government

Written by World Events

Less than two months after taking power, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin appears to be overshadowed by the Shinawatra family, judging from the people around him.

A high proportion of his official and unofficial advisers, government appointees, and Cabinet colleagues are Shinawatra loyalists, friends, political allies, in-laws, or even family members.

Over the past month, PM Srettha has appointed 13 official advisers mostly linked to past governments led by Thaksin Shinawatra or his sister Yingluck.

Nine advisers were named on September 14: Kittiratt Na-Ranong, Tewan Liptapanlop, Pichai Chunhavajira, Supanit Chaiyawat, Pimol Srivikorn, Pichit Chuenban, Chonlatit Surasawadi, Chai Watcharong, and Surayut Thavikulwat.

Srettha appointed four more on October 4: Tongthong Chandransu, Paitoon Chutimakornkul, Arthit Suriyabhivadh, and Police General Chinnapat Sarasin.

PM’s official advisers

Kittiratt, 65, served as deputy prime minister, finance minister, and economic czar in Yingluck’s government. Formerly a deputy Pheu Thai leader, Kittiratt has now been hired to share his expertise as Srettha’s chief adviser.

Srettha had backed Kittiratt for the post of new Football Association of Thailand president but seemed to change his mind a few days before being voted in as prime minister, saying he “would be better suited to helping out the government with its work”.

Veteran politician Tewan, 63, is caretaker leader of the coalition Chart Pattana Kla Party. He is a former Thai Rak Thai Party executive, serving between 2004 and 2007. Founded and led by Thaksin, Thai Rak Thai was ousted from the government by the 2006 military coup before being disbanded by court order in 2007 for electoral fraud. Tewan was among its party executives banned from politics for five years.

Pichai, 73, has experience as a top executive in the petroleum industry. He was formerly chairman of Bangchak Corporation Plc and director of PTT Exploration and Production Plc.

He has also served as president of the Thailand Boxing Association, vice president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand, and president of the Asian Boxing Confederation.

Supanit, 63, is a close ally and childhood friend of the prime minister. He is also an independent director of Sansiri Plc, the property giant that Srettha helmed as president and CEO before entering politics early this year.

Asst Prof Pimol, 59, is a businessman and chief adviser to Pheu Thai’s sports policy committee. He has also been president of the Taekwondo Association of Thailand since 2007.

Pimol was also a Thai Rak Thai executive, serving a five-year ban from politics following the party’s dissolution.

Lawyer for two ex-premiers

Pichit, 64, is a veteran lawyer who worked for both Thaksin and Yingluck on legal cases stemming from their tenures as prime minister. He is well remembered for allegedly offering a sealed snack box containing 2 million baht in cash to bribe officials at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.

Pichit’s team was at the time representing Thaksin in a corruption case. In June 2008, the Supreme Court sentenced Pichit and his two junior colleagues to six months in prison for contempt of court. After the trio completed their jail terms, public prosecutors decided not to press the bribery charges against them. However, the Law Society of Thailand suspended their lawyer licenses for five years for breaching its code of conduct.

Pichit was earlier tipped to join Srettha’s Cabinet as a Prime Minister’s Office minister for legal affairs, but he made a last-minute decision not to take the seat.

Chonlatit, 65, is a former director-general of the Royal Forest Department who was sidelined by the post-coup junta in 2017 over alleged irregularities, which he denied. He is a nephew of Plodprasop Suraswadi, who served as deputy prime minister in Yingluck’s administration.

Chonlatit was approached by Plodprasop, a senior Pheu Thai adviser, to help draft policies on land distribution rights for the party.

Chai, 64, also doubles as spokesman for Srettha’s government. The former veterinarian contested the general election in May as a Pheu Thai list candidate but failed to get elected.

Surayut is a former chief financial officer at BTS Group Holdings Plc, which owns Bangkok Mass Transit System, the BTS Skytrain operator. He quit the CFO post in March to contest the election as a Pheu Thai list candidate but failed to get elected.

Four more appointees

Adjunct Professor Tongthong, 68, is a former dean of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Law. He served as permanent secretary of the PM’s Office under Yingluck’s government and as legal adviser to the administration led by Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law.

Tongthong is the executive board chairman of Krung Thep Thanakom Co Ltd, the business arm of Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

Paitoon is a six-time president of the Sports Reporters and Photographers Association of Thailand and former executive director of Siam Inter Multimedia Plc.

Arthit is a former board member at Xspring Capital Plc, a subsidiary of Sansiri. He was also a member of Pheu Thai’s economic policies team, which was headed by Kittiratt.

Chinnapat, 60, is fresh from retiring as a deputy national police chief at the end of September. He is the son of late former police chief Pow Sarasin, who once served as interior minister.

Linked to Shinawatra family

PM Srettha also has a host of Shinawatra friends and family members working in his government – either officially or unofficially, at the Prime Minister’s Office and in various ministries.

Among them is Prime Minister’s Office Minister Puangpet Chunlaiad, who has enjoyed close ties with the Shinawatras for decades. Puangpet is among the family’s most trusted politicians. She reportedly visited Thaksin many times while he was in self-imposed exile overseas.

As the only PM’s Office minister, Puangpet has been assigned to oversee various agencies, including the Public Relations Department and state-run media firm MCOT Plc.

Khanapoj Joemrith, a close friend of Paetongtarn Shinawatra, has been assigned to oversee PM Srettha’s schedules. He accompanied the prime minister on his recent trip to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Khanapoj is former deputy secretary-general of Pheu Thai’s now-defunct “sister party”, Thai Raksa Chart.

Paetongtarn was one of Pheu Thai’s three prime ministerial candidates and the youngest daughter of the party’s patriarch Thaksin. She is tipped to become Pheu Thai’s next leader.

Also working beside the prime minister is his bodyguard, Pol Colonel WatanyuWitthaypalothai, who did the same job for Yingluck from the first day she entered Government House in 2011.

Chayika Wongnapachant, the daughter of Paetongtarn’s aunt, Yaowares Shinawatra, is reportedly working for Srettha on foreign affairs. According to her LinkedIn profile, Chayikais a specialist in political marketing, public relations and foreign affairs at Pheu Thai.

PM Srettha also has three Pheu Thai political appointees serving as his deputy secretaries-general – Somkid Chueakong, Jakkaphon Tangsutthitham, and PongsarunAssawachaisophon. The trio is tasked with screening ministry files and carrying out political chores for the prime minister.

The Thaksin factor

The prime minister drew criticism last month after telling reporters in New York that he would seek advice from Thaksin, who is serving a sentence for corruption and power abuse after ending his 15-year self-imposed exile overseas.

Srettha’s remark was interpreted by the media as a hint that he would give Thaksin an advisory role in his government once the ex-premier was released.

PM Srettha quickly denied ever saying that he would appoint the ex-PM as an adviser. He explained that he would only seek advice from Thaksin as part of consultations with other former prime ministers.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk

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