people in the news
From shadow to sunlight
Having courted controversy with her books about Thaksin Shinawatra, Sunisa Lertpakawat comes back out of the cold as a deputy government spokespersonI've been told that if I want to make a career in politics, I should observe PM Yingluck because she's a successful female politician," says deputy government spokeswoman Sunisa Lertpakawat.
Sunisa, who's popularly known as "Muad Jeab" (Lieutenant Jeab), landed in politics quite accidentally six years ago when, as a military beat reporter, she flew to London to interview former prime minister in exile Thaksin Shinawatra and subsequently penned the book "Thaksin Where Are You?" Her actions landed her in hot water with her army bosses but despite being in disgrace, in 2009 she went on to pen a sequel, "Thaksin Are You OK?".
The controversy didn't stop her from re-entering the spotlight and in 2011, she stood as a candidate in the general election, winning an impressive 43,420 votes from her Bang Khae constituents. Her goal, she says, is to become an MP.
And it seems as though she is on the way to doing just that. Last week, Pheu Thai appointed her deputy government spokeswoman.
Sunisa recalls her days in the army without regret, saying she worked hard during her time as a reporter and was delighted when she was promoted to host the army's Channel 5 weather forecast. But writing had long been a passion and in 2007, she decided that the time had come to write a book. "Thaksin Where Are You". The subsequent fallout changed her life.
"I remember people queuing up at the national book fair to get an autographed copy of the book," she says. "I didn't know any of them but we shared a love for Thaksin. His policies benefitted our lives."
A few weeks later, with the pressure continuing to build, Sunisa resigned from the military.
In 2011, her life underwent another major change. Sunisa joined the Pheu Thai Party, who fielded her as its candidate in the 2011 general election. Though her campaign was unsuccessful, she served as the party’s deputy spokeswoman until her appointment to the government post.
Asked about her role models, she smiles and says she's had many and that these have evolved in line with her professional progress. During her time with Channel 5, she says, she very much admired newsman Sorrayuth Suthassanachinda and TV host Sukwan Bulakul.
"Sorrayuth is smart when he delivers the news on TV. He clearly describes all details. And Sukwan is a great host," she says.
Another role model is Wassana Nanuam, journalist and author of "Lab Luang Plang". A reporter covering military and security affairs, Wassana taught Sunisa a great deal about writing and also gave her guidelines for her book. Another of her icons is Thai Post reporter Sirirat Burinkul, whom she describes as honest.
In politics, Sunisa is a major fan of former PM Thaksin and his sister Yingluck, the current PM. "I also look to the example of Mikhail Gorbachov for his contribution to the end of the Cold War, and Margaret Thatcher, who was the longest-serving British Prime Minister in recent times," she says.
As a deputy party spokeswoman, she tried to emulate politicians Pongthep Thepkanjana and Chaturon Chaisaeng: "they were both so good at highlighting the main points and summarising the details," she says.
Former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama has served as a mentor too. "He taught me everything I need to know to work as a spokeswoman. And I owe a great deal to Pheu Thai Party secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai, who invited me to join the spokesperson team."
She's also proud of the way she has risen through the ranks. "My family isn't rich. My father is a taxi driver and my mother works hard too. I've always had to overcome obstacles on my own," she says.
As a teenager, she successfully the entrance exam for Suksanari School, the best school in Thon Buri then in Grade 10 went on to Assumption Commercial College. From there, she moved on to Chulalongkorn University where she studied political science.
"I had to work very hard to get into the best school and university. Unlike other children, there was no money for me to take extra tutorial classes," she says.
"Looking back now, I think it was very good that I learned to accept and overcome difficulties in life as a child. It's definitely helped me succeed in both my education and my work.