Srettha Thavisin, the former head honcho of one of Thailand’s big-shot real estate firms, recently pulled off an unexpected twist: he was voted in as prime minister. This turn of events came after weeks of post-election uncertainty, where different parties were locked in a struggle for power.
Srettha, who’s 61 and full of ambition, clinched the premier title in a parliament vote. This happened just hours after Thaksin Shinawatra, the founder of his Pheu Thai Party, made a grand comeback to Thailand after 15 years of going incognito.
With conviction, Srettha declared, “I’m on a mission against poverty and inequality. I’m all about enhancing the lives of all Thais.” And his words resonated, leading to Tuesday’s parliament vote that sailed through with the backing of pro-military parliament members.
These pro-military folks had put the brakes on the progressive Move Forward Party that had scored big in the May election. Instead, they were more inclined to support Srettha and his Pheu Thai Party, which had landed second in the polls. In a surprise move, old adversaries formed an alliance, weaving together their influence to take charge in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.
Srettha, a smooth operator with no background in running a government, got his spotlight moment as the Pheu Thai’s candidate for prime minister. The party highlighted his business smarts, suggesting that his knack for steering the ship in the business world would also translate to navigating the economic recovery post-COVID-19.
Hailing from a family deeply entrenched in the business elite, Srettha’s journey began at the Thailand branch of Procter & Gamble after bagging degrees in economics and management in the United States. In 1990, he co-founded Sansiri, a company that eventually bloomed into one of Thailand’s top real estate giants.
By 2022, Sansiri had clocked revenue of 34.9 billion baht ($1.01 billion) and a net profit of 4.2 billion baht. On Tuesday, the company’s shares leaped more than 8% on the Bangkok Stock Exchange, marking one of their most successful trading sessions in almost seven months.
But as with any tale, there’s a touch of controversy. Chuwit Kamolvisit, known for his provocative political stances, raised concerns that Srettha might have been part of some dubious land deals during his Sansiri days. Srettha and the company were quick to deny any wrongdoing.
Now, here’s a fun tidbit: Srettha, an avid Liverpool football fan, frequently sprinkles his social media with adorable dog snapshots. Standing tall at six feet, three inches (1.92 m), he literally stands head and shoulders above his party comrades.
His switch from the corporate world to the prime minister’s chair mirrors the journey of Thaksin, who minted his fortune in telecommunications before assuming the role of what he called the “CEO prime minister.” However, the military had different plans—Thaksin got the boot in a 2006 coup, and his sister’s government was shown the exit in 2014.
Srettha’s greenness in politics has both upsides and potential downsides, according to analysts and those who know him. He’s known for speaking his mind, unafraid to voice his opinions. But his outsider status might not sit well with some seasoned politicians who fear losing their grip on him.
Despite his outsider aura, questions linger about how independent Srettha can be, especially with Thaksin back in town. Titipol Phakdeewanich, the dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University, sums it up: “Srettha is a political outsider. His business acumen and experience could shape his leadership style and economic policies, but the question remains whether he’s fully free from Thaksin’s influence.”