Thai lawmakers elect Srettha Thavisin to serve as prime minister

New government launches as ex-PM Thaksin returns to Thailand after 15 years of self-exile.
By Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwej for BenarNews
2023.08.22
Thai lawmakers elect Srettha Thavisin to serve as prime minister Pheu Thai’s Srettha Thavisin greets supporters at party headquarters in Bangkok after Thai MPs voted him in as Thailand’s next prime minister, Aug. 22, 2023.
Credit: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Following three months of political intrigue, Srettha Thavisin of the Pheu Thai Party on Tuesday secured enough votes from lawmakers in Parliament to become Thailand’s prime minister and form the next government.

The 61-year-old property tycoon was voted in as PM-elect hours after Thaksin Shinawatra, the party’s patriarch and a former prime minister who was deposed in a military coup in 2006, returned to the country on Tuesday morning after 15 years of self-imposed exile. Thaksin, a fugitive from the law, was taken into custody on corruption-related charges soon after his arrival in Bangkok.

“I, Srettha Thavisin, have the honor of being elected Thailand’s 30th prime minister. I thank all of the Thai people, the house of representatives and the senators who voted for me today. I will try to the best of my ability to help shore up the livelihood of all Thai people,” Srettha told reporters at Pheu Thai headquarters.

The existing 747 members of bicameral legislature voted 482 in favor of Srettha, 165 against with 81 abstentions.

Srettha emerged as the frontrunner for prime minister after nominations for Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the reformist Move Forward Party, were blocked twice in July over concerns about his proposal to amend the royal defamation law, known as lèse-majesté. Pita was denied a path to power although his party had won the most parliamentary seats in the May 14 general election

Pheu Thai placed second in the national polls but later formed an alliance with pro-royalist parties after it dumped Move Forward as a partner in a potential ruling coalition over the lèse-majesté issue.

Pheu Thai, a more pragmatic party, took the leading role away from Move Forward in forming the new government with 10 other parties. The Move Forward Party won 151 seats, 10 more than Pheu Thai.

On Aug. 2, Pheu Thai announced it would nominate Srettha for prime minister and later joined with its former rivals in the outgoing government – Bhumjaithai, Palang Pracharath and the United Thai Nation party. Those parties have ties to the military.

Srettha Thavisin (left), joined by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of Thaskin Shinawatra, greets reporters at Pheu Thai headquarters after receiving enough votes to serve as Thailand’s prime minister, Aug. 22, 2023. Credit: Surin Pinsuwan/BenarNews
Srettha Thavisin (left), joined by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of Thaskin Shinawatra, greets reporters at Pheu Thai headquarters after receiving enough votes to serve as Thailand’s prime minister, Aug. 22, 2023. Credit: Surin Pinsuwan/BenarNews

Tuesday’s debate ahead of the vote for Srettha – who is not an MP and was monitoring the vote at Pheu Thai party headquarters – included criticism of his past business practices.

Last week, Chuvit Kamolvisit, a former sex industry titan who is a graft-busting political activist, accused Srettha of committing fraud when he was CEO at Sansiri PLC and has called for an investigation into his business dealings.

On Tuesday, Sen. Prapan Koonmee alleged that Srettha’s company had illegally collected tolls from motorists who passed through what was supposed to be a free bridge his company built.

“Can you promise that you will not behave like this again?” Prapan asked. “When you become prime minister, you must not do this again.”

Chaitawat Tulathon, secretary-general of the Move Forward Party, was among lawmakers who opposed the vote for Srettha. 

“The attempt to form a government is against the people’s mandate who reflected their intent during the May 14 election that they want to lift the NCPO’s grip on power. But this is the move to prolong the regime laid by the NCPO,” Chaitawat told PMs, referring to National Council for Peace and Order, the official name of the junta which toppled a civilian government in a military coup in May 2014. 

“People will lose faith in politics which will lead to future turmoil. Millions of people are disappointed, angry and disgruntled with the ongoing politics,” he said. 

'The day has come'

Meanwhile in the morning, Thaksin arrived from Singapore aboard a private jet. The former prime minister and Pheu Thai leader had lived in self-imposed exile for 15 years after being forced from office in a coup 17 years ago. 

His younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, suffered the same fate in the 2014 coup led by Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who went on to serve as prime minister and announced he was leaving politics following the May election.

Former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, alongside his son, Panthongtae, and daughter, Paetongtarn, greets supporters after arriving at Mjets private terminal at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Aug. 22, 2023. Credit: Thai News Pix/BenarNews
Former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, alongside his son, Panthongtae, and daughter, Paetongtarn, greets supporters after arriving at Mjets private terminal at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Aug. 22, 2023. Credit: Thai News Pix/BenarNews

She posted a video on Facebook of Thaksin boarding a Gulfstream G650 to Bangkok.

“Finally the day has come ... I wish you good luck and a safe trip,” wrote Thaksin's sister. 

Hundreds of journalists camped out at Don Mueang’s Mjets private terminal ahead of Thaksin’s arrival, while throngs of supporters dressed in red and waving flags waited nearby to get a glimpse of the 74-year-old former premier.

After disembarking, he briefly greeted supporters outside the terminal alongside his daughter Paetongtarn, a leader of the Pheu Thai Party, before laying a flower wreath and prostrating in front of a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (Rama X) and Queen Suthida.

Police then took Thaksin to the Supreme Court where he was ordered to serve eight years for three crimes. The Department of Corrections said Tuesday afternoon that he had arrived at the Bangkok Remand Prison, north of the capital, and undergone a health check.

Thaksin was ousted as prime minister in a military coup in 2006 and fled Thailand in 2008 to escape a prison term for charges that he maintains were politically motivated.

Thaksin Shinawatra kneels before a portrait of the king and queen at the Mjets private terminal at Don Mueang International Airport, Aug. 22, 2023. Credit: Thai News Pix/BenarNews
Thaksin Shinawatra kneels before a portrait of the king and queen at the Mjets private terminal at Don Mueang International Airport, Aug. 22, 2023. Credit: Thai News Pix/BenarNews

Even in exile, the telecoms tycoon remained an influential figure in Thailand. His populist economic policies as prime minister endeared him to the country’s poor, especially in the north and northeast. But his critics have accused him of deep corruption, anti-monarchism and dividing the nation. 

Thaksin has been jailed for approving a low-interest loan from the Export-Import Bank of Thailand to Myanmar’s government to buy telecommunications equipment from a company he controlled

He is also serving time for his involvement in a state lottery scheme, and concealing shares in his family business, SHIN Corp., from 2001-06, during which time the company benefited from various government concessions.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

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