Nuttaphong Kunakornwong, the son-in-law of exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is tipped to be the next leader of Pheu Thai, sources inside the party told Thai Enquirer on Thursday
The Pheu Thai Party, currently the largest opposition party, will select a new leader on Thursday after the high profile resignation of Sudarat Keyuraphan last week.
Infighting and a lack of direction had marked Sudarat’s tenure as party leader which led to poor showing at the polls. Despite being the largest party, the 2019 election was the worst showing by a Thaksin-backed party since the exiled prime minister entered national politics at the turn of the century.
The 2019 election was also the most most hands-off Thaksin has been since he entered politics.
“I think the coup in 2014 and the persecution of his sister (former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra) which led to her exile put Thaksin off politics for awhile,” a senior Pheu Thai MP told Thai Enquirer on condition of anonymity.
“He was very hands-off in 2019 and let Sudarat and the leadership team run the election.”
The source told Thai Enquirer that there was also some complacency on the part of Pheu Thai, with leaders inside the party assuming they would win a larger majority based on the Thaksin brand.
“I think the poor showing and the lack of direction is making Thaksin rethink his strategy and that’s why he wants someone he can trust running the party,” the source added.
Several sources have put forward Thaksin’s son-in-law Nuttaphong as the likely selection by Thaksin to oversee things.
Nuttaphong is married to Thaksin’s daughter Pinthongta and has spent the better part of the last decade running the Shinawatra clan’s SC Asset company.
If appointed, Nuttaphong would lead the party at a time where rumors about the party’s future direction have reached a crescendo.
The rumors have increased since an audience granted by his majesty the King to Thaksin’s ex-wife last week where she donated ambulances to Siriraj Hospital.
The audience, unexpected in Thai political circles, has many speculating whether the Thaksin-backed party could join the ruling coalition or whether a special deal had been struck between Pheu Thai and the palace.
The party has waned in popularity as pro-democracy protests have gripped the country for the past three months.
Student protesters have flocked to the second largest opposition party, Move Forward (Kao Klai) Party, who have supported the students publicly inside the parliament and on the streets.
Pheu Thai, under Sudarat’s leadership, has dragged its feet in supporting the demonstrators and have shied away from their demands – especially when it came to calls for reforming the royal institution.
If Nuttaphong does ascend to the party leadership, he will have to balance Pheu Thai’s interests and alignment with the protesters while navigating its relationship with the conservative institutions in Thai society.