October 16, 2012 00:00
By Avudh Panananda
Talking about Thaksin Shinawatra without making any mention of his ex-wife Khunying Pojaman Na Pombejra will never paint a complete picture of his party, Pheu Thai.
If Pojaman is his yin, then Thaksin is her yang. Together they made a formidable team that built one of the country’s largest corporate empires before making a spectacular splash in politics.
After it became clear that Thaksin’s legal troubles could reverberate on his family, the two agreed to file for a divorce of convenience in 2008 at the Thai consulate in Hong Kong.
Before and after the split, Pojaman remained Thaksin’s faithful soul-mate, and has never failed to cover his back.
She still has a say in his domestic arrangements in Dubai and elsewhere while taking care of his affairs on occasion.
More importantly, she continues to hold the purse strings to the family’s fortune.
All the funding in connection with Thaksin’s political activities has to be okayed by her.
According to family friends, their three adult children will duly seek their mother’s nod before making financial decisions involving father Thaksin or one of their business interests.
When Pheu Thai bigwigs from the Northeast flew overseas to meet Thaksin two weeks ago, they found out they could not bypass his ex-wife to strike a deal.
Seen constantly at Thaksin’s side in Hong Kong was Pojaman’s brother Bhanapot Damapong, who served as the gatekeeper to keep out favour seekers.
Even two red-shirt leaders, Jatuporn Promphan and Natthawut Saikua, did not quite get quality time with Thaksin.
Unlike Thaksin’s two sisters, powerbroker Yaowapha Wongsawat and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who hold very visible roles in the ruling party, Pojaman opts to wield influence behind the scenes.
She implements her decisions through trusted allies like Bhanapot, Phumtham Wechayachai, Suranand Vejjajiva and Prommin Lertsuriyadej.
It is often overlooked that Yingluck’s inner-circle aides were all handpicked by her ex-sister-in-law.
Yesterday retired national police chief Priewpan Damapong became a card-carrying Pheu Thai member.
Pals of Priewpan know he has no political aspirations. Many see his youngest sister Pojaman as prodding him to enter politics.
As the government’s budget-hungry intervention to boost paddy prices has become a contentious issue that could threaten to topple PM Yingluck, Pheu Thai must map out a survival plan.
And Priewpan is the designated player, under grooming by Pojaman, to secure the Pheu Thai’s legacy regardless of any changes whether accidental or by design.
Priewpan’s entrance onto the political stage comes at a crucial time for Pheu Thai.
In two weeks, the ruling party will unveil its new leader and executive board, coinciding with a major transformation with two aims.
First, the ruling party will discard the system of dispensing favours according to regional quotas. The party’s decision-making powers will bypass the various regional groupings to consolidate the collective control of the four real leaders – Thaksin, Pojaman, Yingluck and Yaowapha.
Second, the party will finalise its stance on a referendum to settle issues related to the charter rewrite and pardon for Thaksin.
If Pheu Thai opts for the referendum, then the new party executives will be chosen based on their mobilisation skills to expand party membership by leaps and bounds in order to ensure a sympathetic vote.
Priewpan is expected to become Pojaman’s right-hand man in running the party, taking the burden off Bhanapot, who will focus on lobbying the country’s establishment to cut Thaksin some slack.
But Priewpan’s primary role is in the government, where he will become Yingluck’s No 2.