February 16, 2014 00:00
By Noppatjak Attanon
Caretaker transport minister Chadchart Sittipunt is amused about his newly acquired "mightiest minister" status
When politician Chadchart Sittipunt headed out on an early morning trip to a Surin temple last month, he had little idea that this simple and mundane act would turn him into the “mightiest minister on the Earth”. The title owes nothing to his giving of alms but everything to his chosen attire that bright morning: a black vest and black shorts that did nothing to hide an impressive physique.
An enterprising paparazzo captured the moment and Chadchart went from caretaker transport minister to superstar hunk in the click of the shutter.
“I think I’m merely a rookie when it comes to politics,” Chadchart says, modestly brushing aside any suggestion that his “power” might reign over anything more important than mobile-phone games and action figures.
No one, least of all Chadchart, knows why photo of him dressed down has earned him so many fans. Within hours, the snap had gone viral and Chadchart fever was raging on the social networks.
And despite being more than a couple of weeks old, an age in today’s online community, Chadchart fever has failed to die down, inspiring everything from photo ops to action figures and cosplay.
Chadchart might deny that he is akin to a superhero as the photo-shopped pictures suggest. Yet, despite the political heat on the Pheu Thai-led government, he is enjoying growing popularity in what can only be described as a new phenomenon.
Never before in Thai history has a minister been idolised as a superhero – even in jest – and become a character for mobile-phone games and figurines.
Photo-shopped images exaggerating his muscle power have appeared all over the Internet, often tagged with messages that boast of his superpowers.
In several online photos, Chadchart is ranked alongside Marvel’s superheroes from “The Avengers”.
Several others show him as a superman while some go the whole hog and claim Chadchart can cause a giant hole on a road by simply pressing on the tarmac.
“At first, I was bewildered,” Chadchart says about his superhero photos during an interview with Nation’s TV show “Nation Midnight”.
Mostly though, he’s amused. Certainly Chadchart has given people something to smile about and take their minds away, even briefly, from the tense situation on Bangkok’s streets.
“I laughed out loud when I found a photo-shopped picture on the Net showing me in a sleeveless grandma-style blouse,” says the married father of one.
Comments on the amusing pictures have come from people from both sides of the political divide.
While Chadchart was being interviewed by Nation TV, anti-government demonstrators were on the street under the leadership of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). The demonstrators are demanding that the current caretaker government step down and want an end to the “Thaksin Regime”. The caretaker government, led by the former premier’s youngest sister Yingluck, has been under pressure for months but it has not given in. In the meantime, Thai society is more divided than ever before.
Hardly surprising then that Chadchart knows exactly how he would use his superman powers were he given the opportunity.
“I want the kind of power that will make people start turning to each other, listen and stop fighting,” he says. “Only with that power can I really be the mightiest.”
A new face to politics, Chadchart entered the ranks of the Pheu Thai party just a few years ago. Before that, he was an assistant rector of Chulalongkorn University.
His curriculum vitae is impressive. After he received the Bachelor of Engineering from the CU with first class honours in 1987, he earned an MS (Civil Engineering) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and 1993, received his PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
After his return to Thailand, he sat on the board of many state enterprises.
Because he had served as a political adviser, he was the natural choice for a Cabinet post.
“My mother was upset when I went into politics. When I told her I was to become a deputy transport minister in the Yingluck-led government in early 2012, she cried.
“But I haven’t changed my mind. I will do what I can do for the country. Today, my mum is very supportive,” he says.
He insists that different political views within his family have had little impact on his relationships, smiling as he confirms his twin brother joined a march against the Amnesty Bill, the passing of which triggered the anti-government sentiments and eventually led to Yingluck dissolving the House.
“We still love each other. It’s just that we have different opinions. To me, that’s the beauty of democracy,” he says.
He firmly believes that coming together and talking is the best way to resolve the current issues to the satisfaction of all.
“Together, we can explore possible solutions,” he says.
For now, Chadchart may have to content himself with convincing his fans. His Facebook page now has at least 565,231 likes and some 125,000 people are talking about it.
Chadchart says he’s thinking of ways to meet his fans.
“Perhaps, we go out and do something together to help society,” he says. “We could clean train compartments; they certainly need it.”