On Tuesday, following a three-month delay, Thailand’s Parliament selected the nation’s next prime minister. A real estate magnate from a party deemed acceptable to conservative elites, the appointment of Srettha Thavisin put an end to a sustained period of uncertainty that had brought the country to the brink of a political crisis.
That same morning, the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a coup and had been living in exile for nearly 20 years, returned to Thailand for the first time in 15 years. He was swiftly detained in connection with three abuse-of-power and corruption cases. His return signalled that the party was reaching consensus and suggested that Thaksin banked on Srettha, an ally of his and a member of the party he founded in 2007, guaranteeing not only his safe landing, but a possible position in the new government.
In May, Thailand’s general election saw Pita Limjaroenrat and his progressive Move Forward Party win, despite which he was not appointed prime minister. Pita had pledged to reduce the military and amend a law that criminalizes criticism of the monarchy, after which he found himself effectively blocked by both influential groups from taking office. The country since then had seen outbursts of protests and unsuccessful appeals by the Move Forward Party.
Securing a total of 482 votes in the House of Representatives and the military-appointed Senate, Srettha proved his capacity for consensus, surpassing the 374 votes required for him to become prime minister.
Founder of Sansiri, one of Thailand’s largest property companies, Sretta had expressed his motivation to join politics due to his perception of national mismanagement, committing to pursuing free trade agreements and vowing to promote investment in Thailand.
The new prime minister appeals to the middle class in Bangkok who see him as a technocrat capable of managing the economy, emulating his personal entrepreneurial success on Thailand. He is also known for sharing his views on social media, including his support for LGBTQ rights, which sets him apart from other business figures in Thailand. Srettha had expressed his intention to address inequality in Thailand by raising taxes, emphasizing the need for bold actions, even if they are not popular.
Nevertheless, the challenges that lie ahead are substantial. Prime minister Srettha, aged 60, must now address the demands of an electorate that voted for change but has grown disillusioned with his party, and navigate the ongoing tensions between the public and the country’s military and the royalists, whose power show no signs of waning.