The youngest daughter of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, was the star at the Pheu Thai general assembly on April 24.
All eyes were on the 35-year-old, a newbie to politics, as she shared the stage with party bigwigs.
But Paetongtarn, who heads the main opposition party’s participation and innovation advisory committee, remained coy on the subject of being a potential candidate for prime minister as she outlined a five-point plan at the party assembly for Thailand in line with Pheu Thai’s goal of a “landslide victory” in the next general election.
The plan included encouraging grassroot participation in policy-making, using artificial intelligence to improve agricultural industries and embracing digitisation and technologies such as online platforms and cryptocurrencies.
Pheu Thai and other major political parties in Thailand have started preparing for the poll as the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha grapples with fissures within its ranks, including defections.
Political punters expect an election to be called soon after Thailand hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in November.
“On the day that the government dissolves Parliament, we will be ready. I am confident that we can transform Thailand from a debt-ridden, miserable place with no future, into a country full of opportunities and hope,” Paetongtarn declared on Sunday to the party faithful.
Last month, she was tasked with building party unity with a new appointment as “head of the Pheu Thai family”.
Responding to a question from The Straits Times about the prospects for the party to achieve its goal to secure at least 250 of the 400 Parliament seats at stake in the election, Paetongtarn said she was confident that voters trusted Pheu Thai.
“There’s no need for [the party] to prove anything else, because what it has promised to the people it (has done) every single time. So I don’t see any challenges,” she said.
The Pheu Thai party is the third iteration of the Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party, which was dissolved in 2007 over electoral law violations. It regrouped briefly as the People’s Power Party before becoming Pheu Thai.
Thaksin, 72, was ousted in a 2006 coup and has since been living in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid graft charges. He is believed to wield significant influence over Pheu Thai, which subsequently won the 2011 election.
That win catapulted Paetongtarn’s aunt Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s youngest sister, from political novice to premier in a matter of weeks but was removed from office by the Constitutional Court in 2014 and is also now living in exile, reportedly in London.
A number of top Pheu Thai officials also addressed the party assembly on Sunday, including veteran politician and former deputy prime minister Chaturon Chaisang, party political strategist Chaikasem Nitisiri and Chonlanan Srikaew, who is the party leader.
All three touched on issues including high household debt, the public health crisis because of Covid-19 and the silencing of opposition voices.
“Today we are confident that the Pheu Thai party is the best choice that will lead the Thai people out of the black hole of suffering they have been in for the last eight years,” said Chonlanan.
Paetongtarn made her political debut at a Pheu Thai meeting in October last year and successive party appointments have fuelled speculation that she could be put forward as its candidate for prime minister.
She had previously said she was “not ready yet” to become such a candidate and would rather focus on her advisory role.
When asked again on Sunday about the same issue, she said she cannot be ready “when the party hasn’t even decided yet”.
Paetongtarn, who helms the hospitality arm of family-owned real estate firm Rende Development, addressed questions over whether her party work would be overshadowed by her father’s influence.
“[Everything] that I do in life, some silly stuff, some important stuff, he is always in it... So these kinds of comments don’t affect me, I know what I’m doing,” she said.
The Bhumjaithai and the Democrats, which are part of the governing coalition, were among those also holding meetings over the weekend.
The Democrats have in recent weeks been embroiled in a scandal involving its former deputy leader Prinn Panitchpakdi, who faces several sexual assault charges.
While Prinn resigned from the Democrats shortly after the cases surfaced, the scandal also led to the departure of another party deputy leader Witthaya Kaewparadai, who quit in protest at its handling of the case.
Witthaya said executive members who were involved in recruiting Prinn, such as party leader Jurin Laksanawisit, should also take responsibility and step down.
THE STRAITS TIMES (SINGAPORE)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK