PPRP member paves way to new era
Thanikarn works to bridge generational gaps, give political voice to Thai youth
Reluctant at first to join politics, businesswoman Thanikan "Oum" Pornpongsaroj is ready to step down from the helm of her family business to enter uncharted territory by becoming the face and voice of the younger generation under the banner of the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).
Equipped with good intentions and strong managerial skills, she hopes Thailand will leave the old ways of politics behind and step into a new era of politics that works well in an ever-changing world driven by technology and innovation.
Seeing that the old ways of politics will not get the country through the new era, she stressed that technology will play a crucial role in driving the nation forward, hence the need to utilise technology and innovation to make Thailand well-connected in the new paradigm of global connections.
This is one in a series of interviews with new, outspoken young politicians seeking to be agents of change for the betterment of the country.
Having graduated with a bachelor's degree in communication arts and a master's in economics, the 38-year-old Bangkok native spent several years working in the field of marketing and advertising before finally taking over her family business in the plastics (polymer) industry. It also makes trophies and awards.
During that time, she cultivated strong managerial skills and expertise she deemed applicable to improve the system and efficiency of her family business. With her insight and knowledge in business, she is ready to utilise her expertise to move the country forward.
Well aware of the perception toward her party as being dominated by an older generation of politicians, she said her presence is not being used to serve the party's goal of appealing to younger people, most of whom have never voted before in their lives, but she agreed to join with the intention of using her expertise and knowledge for the advancement of Thailand's interests.
Ms Thanikan said she intends to bridge the gap between the older and younger generations, with the aim of ensuring the voice of the younger generation, as well as other stakeholders, will not be left out.
Coming from a younger generation of Thais, she clearly understands how the younger generation feels powerless and disconnected from politics. However, she stressed that it is important for the younger generation to have hope and realise their power.
"If you are fed up with the old system, it is all the more reason to step out and become a player. You can't just sit and criticise and hope for things to change," she said.
While the older generation are equipped with expertise and experience, the younger generation are "digital natives" who can contribute what the older generation lacks.
"Merging the strengths of the two can yield a fruitful policy that can benefit all," she said.
With that intention in mind, she gathered her friends who are "clean and fresh" politically and have the same intentions as her, saying her group of friends sees a possibility that their knowledge and resources can be used to help the country, and are therefore ready to bridge the gap between the two. Being appointed as the executive-to-be, she is sure that the voice of the younger generation, as well as those of all ages, will be heard.
Without any political background or political connections, she initially could not see herself playing a role in Thai politics.
What sparked her interest in politics were her fellow classmates at the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) executive programme on the rule of law and development, who were very passionate about bringing about changes to society.
During the course, she said her classmates from various professions showed and inspired her that Thailand has many capable people with good intentions who, given a chance to work for the country, will be able to move the country forward.
When she participated in a dyke-building project, for example, the thanks she received from a villager where the dyke was constructed sparked the realisation that everybody has the power to initiate change.
"I could see that contributing to society made me feel that my life has meaning," she recounted.
During her time at the TIJ, she was approached by veteran politician Buddhipongse Punnakanta who told her that he viewed her passion and knowledge as a good fit for Thai politics.
He told her that he had an opportunity for her. At first she didn't see her place in politics. Later, she saw the opportunity and that she would have a chance to make a difference.
"After three times, I came to contemplate the definition of politics and whether it aligns with my intention to contribute to my country. I came to the realisation that politics is essentially about management, and I have managed my business all my life. Therefore, I saw it as an opportunity to contribute to my country," she said.
She said, however, that regardless of who wins the election, what matters to her the most is the country's ability to move forward.
Ms Thanikan stressed that her sole intention in stepping into politics is to use the opportunity to do good things for other people.
Nevertheless, what worries her is the fact that Thailand has not had an election for so many years, causing the public to gradually lose hope.
"There is the need to ignite hope in the public, and make them feel that their voices matter so they want to come out to vote and make a difference," she said.
Talking about the pervasive issue of resentment and a fragmented society, she said reconciliation can be forged with a growth mindset.
She is aware of the past conflict but said she is looking forward to the future and the possibility that by working together, a solution can be found to help the country overcome this political quagmire.
"It doesn't matter who wins, but the country needs to be able to survive," she said. Passionate about education and the environment, she aims to promote easy access to good education.
"If I have a chance to work on a theme, I would work for equality in education. Good education should be available everywhere. We have been trying for so many years to improve the system to no avail. I want to fix that," she said.
Discussing the issue of "top-down" policies, she is willing to work hard to make sure that everybody's voice will be heard, as proven by the party's intention to create a policy that leaves no one behind.
Referring to the 20-year national policy, she said the world is dynamic and changing all the time, and one should look at the policy as a blueprint, or a sandbox to test out each policy. However, the policy is "definitely open to change", she said.
When asked whether Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha would become the head of the party, as speculated, she said she has no knowledge pertaining to the matter.
"I honestly don't know. Everything is still in flux. It's very dynamic," she said.