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What will I do when I retire?

Fresh faces come to aid of all parties

November 16, 2000

Thanong Khanthong assesses the economic slots of the political parties as they try to generate some excitement in the upcoming election.

A quick glance at the party lists of political parties for the January 6 election finds some fresh faces and young blood that certainly add new dimensions to Thai politics. Yet it remains to be seen whether these newcomers will really make a difference.

From the Democrat to the Thai Rak Thai, Chat Pattana and Chat Thai parties, there are quite a number of faces with high recognition and credibility. They would not have made it to Thai politics if the country had not gone through political reform under the new constitution that for the first time reflects the aspirations of the people.

To begin with the Democrats, the party has managed to win a big prize by recruiting Ekamol Khiriwat, the former secretary-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to its party list. Ekamol is destined to be the next finance minister if the Democrats make a comeback.

In that case, Tarrin Nimmanahaeminda, the present finance minister, will have to bite the bullet by taking an important but less powerful job. Nonetheless, the No 6 candidate on the party list will be trying to work together with Abhisit Vejjajiva, No 3 on the party-list, with party leader and No 1 party-list candidate Chuan Leekpai at the helm.

Ekamol, who has formed different opinions on economic management from those of Tarrin, would need to work really hard to win consensus within the party to chart a course.

Next year is going to be another difficult year for the Thai economy and the banking system.

With the departure of Supachai Panitchpakdi, who is preparing to become the next director-general of the World Trade Organisation, the Democrats appear to have suffered an initial PR disaster over failure to come up with a head for their economic team. Before leaving, Supachai ironically submitted the Democrat Party's manifesto for its election platform.

It is not certain that Tarrin has read Supachai's manifesto because the two have been at odds over the past three years over the way the economic and financial crisis should be tackled. But, in practice, the Democrats believe that they can bury the hatchet or keep fierce personal rivalries within the party and move on by keeping their focus on Chuan, the honest but uninspiring leader.

Thai Rak Thai is concealing its trump card, which, when it is laid on the table, will turn out to be MR Chatu Mongol Sonakul, the central bank governor. He is not contesting the party-list election because he did not want to resign and allow the Democrat to mess around with the central bank. But he is almost certain to become the next finance minister if Thai Rak Thai is the core coalition partner in the next government.

Thai Rak Thai has been making a lot of noises over the past year, so when it released its party list, there was not much extra excitement. Certainly, the telecom tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra is the only gravity force in Thai Rak Thai, to which all members must be subject, for he is the paymaster of the whole party.

The other important key members of Thai Rak Thai are Dr Somkid Jatusripitak, who has No 3 position on the party list. If anything goes wrong with Thaksin over his past financial dealings, Somkid may emerge as the next party leader. The academic is so close to Thaksin that he has been assigned to write the party's manifesto.

Next is Dr Surakiart Sathirathai, No 11 on the party list. The former finance minister in the Banharn administration and Harvard law professor has risen quickly in the party hierarchy, winning Thaksin's confidence. He is expected to take over the foreign portfolio.

Surakiart has been working almost full-time to develop a winning election platform for the party.

Pitak Intrawityanunt, a former Chat Pattana man, is also a key member of Thaksin's inner circle. He is eyeing the tourism portfolio, hoping to play a big role in formulating policy. He has been working hard to develop the party into an electoral frontrunner.

Dr Suvarn Valaisathien, lawyer and tax expert, is another big brain in the party. He wrote the party's tax policies and has made some good suggestions on how to improve businesses. At No 100 on the party list, Suvarn may get a deputy finance portfolio.

Phansak Winyarat, Thaksin's chief of staff, did not make it to the party list. But he is the man to watch if Thaksin heads to Government House. In modern politics, the chief of staff plays a very important role in ensuring the leadership's success.

Other parties, such as the Chat Pattana, New Aspiration or the Chat Thai, have failed to generate as much excitement. Chat Pattana still banks on its dual leadership of Korn Dabaransi and Suwat Liptapanlop. Goanpot Asvinvichit, the deputy commerce minister, will remain the force. Thamnoon Prachuabmoh, the former head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, also managed to sneak in.

The New Aspiration Party has managed to woo Dr Nimit Nontaphantawat, the chief economist of Bangkok Bank. Nimit is quite knowledgeable in economics and should become the brain of the party so that its members stop talking nonsense.

Chat Thai has got MR KasemSamosorn Kasemsri, and Kobsak Chutkul, both former senior officials of the Foreign Ministry, in its fold. Sawat Horungrueng, the former steel magnate, should also add colour to the otherwise dull party, which is focusing its election platform entirely on rural development.



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