Surachai Liengboonlertchai, who was elected by fellow senators as the new Senate Speaker on Friday night, comes from a humble background. Born in a family that ran a small grocery store, he served as a "temple boy" during his school days.
He was born in Bangkok in January 1953. At that time, his father ran a small grocery store in the Thon Buri side of the capital. “I was taught the value of work and education. I delivered groceries by bicycle since I was young,” Surachai said.
While studying at Wat Thawithapisek Elementary School, which is located in the compound of a Buddhist temple with the same name, Surachai served as a temple boy, helping wash alms bowls and cleaning the temple’s ground. He later managed to pass an exam to study at Amnuay Silp School, which is considered a leading all-boys school.
When he was in the final year of high school, his family became destitute after their house was destroyed by fire. This personal disaster inspired Surachai to study law and become a lawyer.
“My family’s crisis led me to know more about the legal system, particularly the laws about assistance to disaster victims. I wondered why our family had to suffer from a fire created by other people. We were left homeless and our family became penniless,” he said.
Surachai finally managed to pass an entrance exam to study law at Thammasat University. There he learned a lot about political ideology and being an activist.
In his first year at the university, there was a student-led uprising against a dictatorial government in October 1973. Thammasat became a hotbed of street demonstrations. Three years later, when he was a senior student, there was a massacre of protesting students at the university in October 1976.
“I distributed leaflets at Thammasat University and made posters against the government at that time and called for freedom,” he said.
After obtaining his degree in law, Surachai began his career as a junior lawyer apprentice at a law office. He later became a barrister-at-law after graduating from the Thai Bar Association’s Institute of Legal Education. He focused his practice on tax and excise laws.
In 2000, he was part of a team of lawyers that won an election to run the Lawyers Council of Thailand.
After the coup in 2006, Surachai represented the lawyers’ council in the committee set up to draft a new constitution. He managed to push for inclusion of a farmers’ council in the 2007 Constitution.
Surachai later sought selection as an appointed senator, which he has been for two terms. He was picked by colleagues to become the first deputy Senate speaker.
He said that after completing his term in the next four years, he would leave politics for good and devote his time to teaching. “I can’t stay idle. I like working, especially on something that benefits the country. This makes me proud and happy,” he said.