No stranger to the fighting ring

No stranger to the fighting ring

Govt spokesman draws on unusual background as a vet and cock-fighting fan to craft words for PM

Veterinarian-turned-government spokesman Chai Wacharonke believes in the importance of harnessing the power of communication. Chanat Katanyu
Veterinarian-turned-government spokesman Chai Wacharonke believes in the importance of harnessing the power of communication. Chanat Katanyu

Despite being a newcomer to politics, Chai Wacharonke now appears to have eased into his role as a government spokesman with the natural skill set necessary to perform his duties.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post, Mr Chai, a 64-year-old veterinarian, talked about his background, his foray into politics and the challenges of being a government spokesman.

After graduating from Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Veterinary Science, he set his life's compass on the predictable: pursuing a career in a veterinary business, and working at companies selling pets, animal feed, veterinary supplies and farming equipment.

But his sales background hasn't gone to waste. In fact, his years in trade in the feed and supplies business have honed his communication skills, prized assets for his role as spokesman. He has the experience in sales and marketing during his stints at those companies to thank.

''When products were launched, I acted as emcee or presenter for those events. I also took part in activities organised by livestock associations.

''When they wanted to convey important messages to the public, they often asked me to do the job. I know how to explain complicated issues in a way that is easy to understand," he said.

He said a passion for cockfighting gave him a chance to meet business leaders and politicians who shared his interest.

During the spread of H5N1 bird flu in 2004, Mr Chai, who served as vice-president of the Association of Thai Cockfighting Career Promotion, called on the then Thaksin Shinawatra government to import vaccines developed for chickens as a means to curb transmission.

Mr Chai said he also worked as a TV show host for five years, talking on a variety of subjects, including the economy, politics, and education, as he sharpened his skills further.

He made his first foray into politics on June 7, last year, when he was unveiled as a member of the Pheu Thai Party.

Mr Chai, who was 91st on Pheu Thai's party-list, worked as a member of Pheu Thai's agricultural policy committee during the election campaign.

''I am keen on politics. In the past, I liked the style and approach of the Thai Rak Thai Party.

"Thai Rak Thai grasped social problems and rolled out practical policies that delivered results for people," he said.

Founded in 1998 by now-jailed ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Thai Rak Thai was later disbanded over electoral fraud and reborn as the People Power Party, which was itself dissolved over electoral irregularities and then reincarnated as the Pheu Thai Party which now leads the coalition government.

Mr Chai has previously told the media that he joined Pheu Thai due to its strong work ethic and sincerity that made it popular with those in the agricultural sector. It was that rapport that led him to join the agricultural policy committee, he added.

''Party executives knew about my background so they appointed me to the agricultural policy committee about a year before the May 14 election,'' he said.

By then his prominence in politics was being noticed by Prommin Lertsuridej, secretary-general of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who asked him to take the spokesman post.

''I told him that I was ready for the job, considering my experience and background.''

Mr Chai has to acclimatise himself to the demands of being a government spokesman, including accompanying the prime minister on his trips to the provinces and abroad.

"I have to shift from slow living to a fast-paced life. I get up at 4am and leave for work at 5am every day. The speed of everything increases greatly. Government affairs keep pouring in constantly,'' he said.

''The prime minister works hard. He walks very fast and makes quick decisions with a sharp mind. He is a leader who prioritises achieving results,'' Mr Chai said.

In an age when social media dominates the flow of information, and with a persistent hounding by critics, Mr Chai said his priority is relaying the government's messages to the people correctly rather than trading recriminations.

''I zero in mainly on clarifying issues. I don't respond to critics who target and get personal.

''If criticism is not serious, there is no need to respond. I focus on informing the public about the government's work rather than exchanging words.

''But if a serious issue arises, it needs to be clarified quickly to prevent any misunderstanding and problems that might ensue," he said.

And when it comes to Thailand's stance amid rising geopolitical risks, Mr Chai said the prime minister has stressed the need for the government to keep a fine balance in relations with global powers.

Thailand should avoid taking sides or getting involved in conflicts while it should also seek cooperation with other countries to boost mutual benefits, Mr Chai said.

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