SPOTLIGHT

With for­mer Thai Prime Min­is­ter Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra now liv­ing in ex­ile, Thaksin loy­al­ist Su­darat Keyu­raphan has been tipped to take the reins of the op­po­si­tion Pheu Thai Party

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents -

With Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra hav­ing fled, Thailand’s Pheu Thai Party needs a new leader

WHO IS SHE?I

Found­ing mem­ber and for­mer deputy leader of Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra’s now dis­solved Thai Rak Thai party, Su­darat Keyu­raphan served var­i­ously as health min­is­ter and min­is­ter for agri­cul­ture and col­lec­tives un­der the pop­ulist prime min­is­ter be­fore his fall in the 2006 mil­i­tary coup. A staunch Thaksin loy­al­ist and fer­vent roy­al­ist, Su­darat’s sup­port for the now-ex­iled leader dates back to Thaksin’s de­but in the Bud­dhist-in­spired Palang

Dharma Party of the 1990s.

IWHY IS SHE IN THE NEWS?I

With Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra hav­ing fled to Dubai ahead of loom­ing im­pris­on­ment on charges of crim­i­nal neg­li­gence stem­ming from the failed rice sub­sidy scheme she im­ple­mented as prime min­is­ter, Su­darat has been pegged as a favourite for the party lead­er­ship. As a mem­ber of the so-called Bangkok fac­tion of Thaksin’s sup­port­ers, Su­darat has en­joyed a sig­nif­i­cant level of sup­port from the party elite in Thailand’s cap­i­tal city – and, it is be­lieved, the en­dorse­ment of their leader-in­ex­ile him­self.

WHY HAS HER NAME BEEN PUT FOR­WARD?I

Queen Mary Univer­sity of Lon­don in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics

reader Lee Jones said that Su­darat’s port­fo­lios of health and agri­cul­ture had en­deared her to the Pheu Thai Party’s largely agrar­ian base. “She wasn’t part of any Thaksin­ista gov­ern­ment af­ter 2006,” he said. “So it makes her a bit more dif­fi­cult to im­peach, be­cause she wasn’t in­volved with the rice scan­dal or any­thing like that. But the big­ger is­sue is that she is gen­uinely pop­u­lar among Pheu Thai rank and file – much more

pop­u­lar than any­body else.”

WHAT WOULD HER LEADERSHIPI MEAN FOR THE PHEU THAI PARTY?I

Ac­cord­ing to Jones, Su­darat’s lead­er­ship would be very much in keep­ing with the pro-democ­racy move­ment’s on­go­ing com­pro­mise be­tween the party es­tab­lish­ment and their more rad­i­cal base. “The Thaksin­ista par­ties have al­ways been dom­i­nated by a nar­row so­cial elite or busi­ness oli­garchy – and the more rad­i­cal

demo­cratic base has al­ways re­lied on those kinds of fig­ures to pro­vide them with po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship,” he said. “That’s al­ways been a struc­tural prob­lem for the Thaksin­ista par­ties – they are ba­si­cally led by [peo­ple who] will mo­bilise and de­mo­bilise their base as they see fit as part of in­ter-elite strug­gles. No one from the Red­shirt base has ever ex­er­cised power right at the top.”

WOULD SHE BE ABLE TO WIN?I

With Thailand’s new mil­i­tary-drafted con­sti­tu­tion ex­pressly writ­ten to pre­vent the kind of ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ments ush­ered in by Thaksin’s un­prece­dented

sup­port among ru­ral vot­ers, it is dif­fi­cult to see the Pheu Thai Party get­ting close to the power they once wielded. De­spite this, Jones said, sup­port from the

party’s base owed more to wide-reach­ing so­cioe­co­nomic fac­tors. “The loy­alty of the base is not that much in doubt,” he said. “Be­cause they’re still look­ing

for some­one who will rep­re­sent their in­ter­ests and share power and re­sources with them more broadly.

The Demo­crat Party sim­ply isn’t will­ing to do that.”

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