Pheu Thai's Anudith is no puppet
Party's new sec-gen insists he gained role on his own merit
It is undeniable that the role and image of the Pheu Thai Party -- perceived as an offshoot of the disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party which was founded by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra -- has improved.
While other opposition parties such as the Future Forward Party have launched fierce attacks on the government, Pheu Thai has assumed a more conciliatory tone, focusing on criticising policies rather than slamming them.
The low-key stance of a once forceful party partly reflects the character of the party's new secretary-general, Anudith Nakornthap, a 54-year-old politician who declares that he is a "different kind of party secretary-general".
"Most party secretary-generals play the role of facilitators -- a go-between -- more like a family caretaker," he told the Bangkok Post.
"But I am the kind of secretary-general who will use reason to manage the party. I will manage all parts in a straightforward manner as much as I can."
Before the new secretary-general can prove he is different from his counterparts in other parties, he has a daunting task to prove he is not a proxy of Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, the party's strategy chief.
Gp Captain Anudith was known as the right-hand man of Khunying Sudarat and it has been assumed that favouritism helped him secure the job.
He has never denied having a close link with Khunying Sudarat, whom he has reportedly admiringly described as his "role model" and a "respectful person in my life".
"Khunying Sudarat has devoted herself to the party with her knowledge, capability, and vision.
''At heart Khunying is a democracy activist who fights relentlessly to protect democracy," he said.
He said he has not been discouraged by any negative comments.
"Let them judge me as they want. I cannot change anyone's thoughts but I can show them by my work. Nonetheless, people aware of my experience in important work would understand that I have been nominated for the role because of my high profile, not Khunying Sudarat's power."
Under his leadership, the Pheu Thai Party has departed from its old image as a dominant party that tends to go to any lengths to protect its own causes.
Gp Captain Anudith claimed his conciliatory, pragmatic approach and humility will help him foster a positive atmosphere and unity in the party.
"I get along very well with the party's members, both senior and junior," he said.
"I treat them equally. They do not have conflicts nor dislike me because I am a modest man and can accept criticism from all levels. It is not a surprise that I won a majority of votes from them."
His calm demeanour might suggest that he is an outsider to politics. On the contrary, he is the son of Thiti Nakornthap, an air force officer and former member of the defunct Samakkhitham Party.
The Samakkhitham Party was one of the military-backed parties of the past, founded to support the coup of the National Peace Keeping Council in the 1990s.
Gp Captain Anudith made a foray into Thai politics 15 years ago at the invitation of his army colleague Sitha Thiwaree and had a chance to get acquainted with Khunying Sudarat.
Along with his experience as a politician, he has passed the test of winning all the elections he has contested since he first ran for an MP seat in 2007.
During the tenure of former PM Yingluck Shinawatra, he was made Minister of Information and Communication Technology which is the predecessor of the current Ministry of Digital Economy and Society.
He added he has done many big jobs such as serving as director of the Anti-Corruption Office of the party to investigate government transparency.
"I had many years of long and solid experience before being appointed as secretary-general of Pheu Thai," he said.
"I have learned a lot through my various responsibilities. The lessons, skills and wisdom I gained from them can be applied to deal with duties such as coordination, negotiation and human resource management."
Under his direction, he has vowed to move Pheu Thai into the future.
He has used his experience from his stint at the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology to make use of digital technology to engage with society and improve the economy.
He also helped to develop the Pheu Thai Party brand into its present incarnation as the "party for the people".
"The party has held the motto 'the heart of Pheu Thai is Thai people' because it is our goal to achieve democracy by taking care of them and voicing their needs," he said.
"We have created a platform and activities that help people to engage with the party, so we can learn exactly what people exactly want and what problems are their priority."
As secretary-general, Gp Captain Anudith has also restructured the party to decentralise its activities.
Currently, the Pheu Thai Party has a new structure which categorises members into three groups.
The first group is the party's executives who have wide experience and make decisions; the second group is the "practitioner level" younger generation which likes Gp Captain Anudith to take action; and the third is the new generation known as "Pheu Thai Plus".
These young members take part in visiting people in communities to learn about their problems and give feedback to the party.
He added he still has a relationship with Thaksin but it is an "ideological one".
Thaksin became a fugitive after the Thai Rak Thai Party was dissolved due to a coup in 2006. He faced corruption charges in 2007.
"Mr Thaksin and I share a common goal which is to make life better for Thais and make sure their rights are well protected," he said.
"People have always believed that the party has been manipulated by Mr Thaksin. But the truth is the Pheu Thai Party continues to exist and function as a political party without Mr Thaksin."