Srettha an unlikely PM
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Srettha an unlikely PM

Property tycoon will need all his management skills to steer the country and an unwieldy coalition

Srettha Thavisin shows his ID card when he casts his vote in Bangkok on May 14. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)
Srettha Thavisin shows his ID card when he casts his vote in Bangkok on May 14. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

Srettha Thavisin will need all the skills honed in a successful business career as he prepares to take the helm of an unwieldy alliance of populists and pro-military parties as the 30th prime minister of Thailand.

Until just a few months ago, Mr Srettha was best known as the CEO of Sansiri Plc, one of the country’s biggest property developers. That all changed when he joined the Pheu Thai Party as chief adviser to the so-called Pheu Thai Family and was named one of the party’s three prime ministerial candidates.

Born on Feb 15, 1962 in Bangkok and nicknamed “Nid”, he is the only son of Capt Amnuay Thavisin and Chodchoi Jutrakul. He is related to five Chinese-Thai business families: Yip in Tsoi, Chakkapak, Jutrakul, Lamsam and Buranasiri.

Mr Srettha attended Prasarnmit Demonstration School before leaving Thailand for high school in the United States. He went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Massachusetts and a master’s degree in Business Administration and Finance from Claremont Graduate School in California.

He started his career in 1986 as an assistant product manager at the Thailand arm of Procter & Gamble. In 1990, along with some cousins, he founded a company that went on to become Sansiri, eventually growing it into one of the country’s largest property developers.

SET-listed Sansiri last year posted revenue of 34.9 billion baht and net profit of 4.2 billion. Shares in the company rose more than 8% on the Stock Exchange of Thailand on Tuesday, their best one-day performance in nearly seven months.

Mr Srettha, 61, and his wife Dr Pakpilai Thavisin, a specialist in anti-ageing medicine, have two sons, Napat and Warat, and one daughter, Chananda.

Shinawatra connection

While he was never known to be overtly political, Mr Srettha has long been a confidant of both Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, both former prime ministers and key Pheu Thai figures.

However, Mr Srettha was outspoken in his condemnation of the anti-government movement led by Suthep Thaugsuban and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee against the Yingluck government.

After the 2014 military coup by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, he was among dozens of prominent figures ordered to report in person for “attitude adjustment”.

In November last year, he announced in a tweeted message that he had become a member of Pheu Thai. In March this year he was named the chief adviser to the Pheu Thai family unit and subsequently resigned from Sansiri.

Mr Srettha transferred his shares in a total of 13 companies to a number of other parties including his daughter. The transferred shares in Sansiri alone were worth 1.2 billion baht. He then dedicated his time to campaigning for the May 14 general election when Pheu Thai won 141 seats, 10 fewer than the Move Forward Party.

When Move Forward proved unable to steer its leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, across the finish line to the prime ministership, Pheu Thai was asked to form a government. That culminated on Tuesday — exactly 100 days after 39 million people voted in an election that cost taxpayers 6 billion baht — with Mr Srettha's election as prime minister.

A devoted fan of the English football club Liverpool who peppers his social media accounts with pictures of dogs, Mr Srettha literally looms over his party colleagues, at a height of 192cm.

“In football and politics … people cannot play alone, you have to play as a team,” he is fond of saying.

Straight talker

A party colleague and two business associates described Mr Srettha as a straight talker who won’t be afraid to speak his mind.

“He hasn’t really adapted to become a politician,” one of the business associates said. “So many politicians don’t feel comfortable around him, they’re afraid they can’t control or influence him.”

While he might be unencumbered by old political obligations, at the same time he lacks a political support base both within the party and the broader public.

This has led to questions about to what extent Mr Srettha can be his own man, especially with the looming figure of Thaksin now back on the scene.

“Srettha is a political outsider,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the faculty of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University.

“His business connections and experience may help his management style and boost economic policies but there is a question whether he is totally independent of Thaksin.”

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