Potjaman, Paetongtarn and Thaksin: the power triangle behind Pheu Thai

Khunying Potjaman Damapong’s rare appearance at a Pheu Thai party rally on September 10 was seen as symbolic for a woman seen as the party’s de facto leader.

Her estranged husband, ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, denied her presence had any special significance, saying Potjaman was simply there to offer their youngest daughter Paetongtarn moral support as she addressed the Chiang Mai crowd.

Potjaman is known to be one of the most powerful figures in Pheu Thai despite not holding any executive position in the main opposition party. But she has kept a low profile since Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party was disbanded by court order 15 years ago.

Occupying a behind-the-scenes role, she was occasionally spotted meeting with key party figures. Late last year, a senior Pheu Thai official even suggested to Thaksin that Potjaman should become party leader. But he dismissed the idea, saying his ex-wife had “no interest in politics”.

send a signal

For many observers, Potjaman’s rare political appearance in Chiang Mai – the political stronghold of the Shinawatra family – was meant to send a signal that Pheu Thai is launching its campaign for the upcoming general election.

The election is due to be called by March next year, when the four-year term of the House of Representatives expires.

“Potjaman is an influential figure that Pheu Thai politicians can rely on. His appearance is a guarantee that Pheu Thai is now ready both in terms of popularity and money. [to contest the next election]said Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University.

“She wants to marshal all the resources and support of the party for her daughter,” the analyst added.

Additionally, the countdown to the election means incumbent MPs must now decide which political party they will run for. Several Pheu Thai deputies have already switched to other parties.

So Potjaman’s attendance at the party was also meant to stop any further defections, Wanwichit said.

“Potjaman is smart”

Veteran politician Nipit Intarasombat said Potjaman’s rare public appearance could fuel the already fiery confrontation in Thailand’s bitter political divide.

“Potjaman is smart. She can see that the [Shinawatra] the family is now legally safe. For now, the only choice is to get Thaksin back,” said Nipit, who is the deputy leader of Thailand’s new Sarng Anakot party.

Nipit noted that Potjaman has stayed away from public view since Thaksin fled the country to live abroad in 2008.

In October 2008, just months after he left the country, the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders sentenced Thaksin to two years in prison for abuse of power. Three other court cases have since added a total of 10 years to Thaksin’s sentence.

The girl

Paetongtarn made her political debut last October at a Pheu Thai rally in Khon Kaen, following her introduction as the party’s senior adviser on participation and innovation.

Since then, she has been regularly promoted as the figure who will lead the Pheu Thai election campaign, although the party’s official leader is opposition leader Cholnan Srikaew.

Pheu Thai appears to believe in Paetongtarn’s ability to attract young voters while appealing to supporters of his father, Thaksin.

In March, the 36-year-old was named “head of the Pheu Thai family”, a new party post apparently created especially for her. The party is aiming for a landslide victory in the elections, which are expected early next year.

New leader of ‘Pheu Thai Family’ wants more experience before becoming PM

The best choice available?

However, Pheu Thai has yet to officially announce Thaksin’s youngest daughter as a candidate for prime minister. Analysts said the party first wanted to test the waters and gauge public sentiment.

But for political pundits, Paetongtarn seems to be the best option available for Pheu Thai.

Recent polls confirm this perception: when asked who they preferred as the next prime minister, the largest group of respondents (25-34%) favored it over the suspended prime minister, General Prayut Chan-o. -cha, and prominent party leaders including Pita Limjaroenrat of Move Forward, Thailand. Sudarat Keyuraphan of Sang Thai and Jurin Laksanawisit of the Democrats.

However, analysts believe Pheu Thai will face a dilemma if they nominate Paetongtarn as their candidate for prime minister.

Wanwichit said that if nominated as a candidate for prime minister, Paetongtarn will certainly come under attack as the latest member of the Shinawatra dynasty.

“People will question someone from the Shinawatra family becoming Prime Minister again. After the father [Thaksin]step-uncle [Somchai Wongsawat]and aunt [Yingluck Shinawatra]now it’s the girl’s turn,” Wanwichit said.

Double edged sword

Paetongtarn will also be criticized for her wish to “bring her father home”.

Thaksin, who was overthrown in the 2006 military coup, has been convicted in absentia in several corruption cases stemming from his government‘s policies. He claims that the charges against him were politically motivated.

Thaksin also told supporters recently that he may return to Thailand soon – although, like Paetongtarn, he did not specify how. His remarks sparked speculation that he had reached a deal with the powers that be in Bangkok.

In 2013, a general political amnesty bill during Yingluck’s tenure was expected to pave the way for Thaksin’s return, but instead led to massive street protests and the May 2014 military coup.

Paetongtarn needs to clarify his stance on his father, Wanwichit said. “Just announcing that she will be bringing her father home could backfire. Conservatives could come together to oppose her,” he explained.

Risking a new crisis?

Any move by Pheu Thai to repatriate Thaksin would risk triggering a new political crisis, political analyst Sukhum Nuansakul warned.

Sukhum, a former rector of Ramkhamhaeng University, said that although Paetongtarn appears to be more popular than government leaders, his vague wish to “bring Thaksin home” could see Pheu Thai lose votes.

“The [election] outcome may go against the party because people don’t want to see another political crisis,” the analyst said.

“The Pheu Thai must clarify how Thaksin will return home [without having to serve his prison terms]. The last time they tried with the amnesty bill, there was a big societal problem,” he said.

“Thaksin’s Last Bet”

Meanwhile, Wanwichit said that at 36, Paetongtarn is considered too young to lead the country, especially as the current bureaucracy has been under the power of General Prayut and his cohorts for eight years since the coup. ‘State. She would certainly face resistance and scrutiny, he added.

“The next election will be Thaksin’s last big bet. He obviously wants his party to win overwhelmingly, but it will be too difficult to achieve,” predicted the analyst.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk

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