Family members and loyalists to the powerful former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra were on Wednesday elected to head a new party, reinvigorating the division that has characterised and paralysed Thai politics for over a generation.
The controversial Shinawatra family have long been key political figures in Thailand. Former prime minister and billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration was booted out in a 2006 coup d’etat by the powerful military, although all parties and proxies affiliated with him have won elections since 2001.
This includes Thailand’s biggest party, Pheu Thai – which was headed by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck before she was ousted in a coup in 2014.
The new party associated with the clan is Thai Raksa Chart, which held a meeting on Wednesday to vote on its leader and board members, and has formed ahead of much-anticipated elections early next year.
Political analysts say the party is a proxy for the Pheu Thai party, with an almost identical party logo and support from Pheu Thai stalwarts.
Preechapol Pongpanit was elected as Thai Raksa Chart’s new leader – Preechapol was also the government whip under the Pheu Thai-led administration of Yingluck Shinawatra.
Rupop Shinawatra, Thaksin’s nephew, was elected as the new party’s deputy leader.
He has previously served as an assistant to Thaksin during the brief period when the billionaire owned British football club Manchester City.
“I cannot change the name that comes with me but I want people to see me as me instead of just another Shinawatra,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Chayika Wongnapachant, Yingluck’s niece, is another member of the new party, who demurred when asked if her new party would align itself with Pheu Thai in a coalition government.
“We stand with any party that stands with democracy,” Chayika said.
Political analyst Somchai Phagaphasvivat said this proxy party was created to “circumvent” a 2017 junta-drafted constitution, which makes it very difficult for any one party to have a majority in elections.
A popular party like Pheu Thai would have to get crucial support from smaller parties to gain control under the new rules.
“It’s like [Thai Raksa Chart] are in the same political family, but they are a different party,” Somchai said.
Junta leader and prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has expressed interest in recent weeks about entering the political fray, though he has stopped short of declaring his intentions to run as a candidate.