Other Important Figures
Almost twenty years after he brought his newly formed Thais Love Thais party into power in the 2001 elections, the figure of Thaksin Shinawatra still looms large in Thai politics. Objections to his influence in politics by Thai traditional elites have been at the heart of two coups, repeated mass street protests, and numerous prime ministerial ejections and party dissolutions by the Election Commission. The most popular party in Thailand, Pheu Thai, is a Thaksin-aligned party. Critics say that he remains the brains and the power behind the party, regularly speaking to party officials and constituents alike in various formats. He remains in exile, avoiding a corruption ruling against him that has a two-year prison sentence attached to it. Critics have also accused him of being anti-monarchy, but the nomination of Princess Ubolrat by a Thaksin-aligned party lends weight to Thaksin’s repeated claims that he respects the monarchy, like all Thais.
The King of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, is constitutionally above politics and thus perhaps deserves no inclusion in this overview. However, academics have long placed the royal family into a larger circle of elites in Thailand known as the Network Monarchy (Duncan McCargo’s term). The political preferences of the relatively new king are unclear. Prior to his ascension to the throne, rumors existed of his ties to Thaksin. With a Thaksin-aligned party nominating his older sister as candidate for Prime Minister, those rumors re-surfaced, but the King quickly made a statement condemning the involvement of the monarchy in politics. This continued the Palace’s decades-long formal political stance of remaining above politics.
General Apirat Kongsompong
An arch-royalist with close ties to the palace, Apirat was appointed to the top military post in October 2018. He hails from a different army faction than Prayuth and has, since his appointment, begun a sustained campaign of replacing the military’s top brass with members of his pre-cadet class. Thus far, there have been no clear signals of Apirat’s stance on Prayuth’s premiership. However, the risk of a coup is always high in Thailand, and this might be one to watch out for in the future.