The third emergence of the Shinawatras
Thailand has an election this year, and the current polling tells a familiar story. As of this year, Paetongtarn Shinawatra is one of three candidates nominated for prime minister by the anti-junta opposition Pheu Thai party. In the wake of Paetongtarn’s ascent to the nomination, Pheu Thai have charged ahead in Thailand’s NIDA poll, leaving other parties far behind.
Two of Paetongtarn’s relatives have served as prime minister. Thai history since the 2000s hinges in part on the legacy of her father Thaksin, a billionaire businessman who took the office after elections in 2001. Thaksin is known for his clashes with the Thai royal family, as well as his prosecution of a brutal drug war during his term.
Thaksin was ousted in a coup in the year 2006, exiled, and his Thai Rak Thai party outlawed. Despite this, Thai Rak Thai’s successor parties have remained prominent players in Thai politics. Just five years after the junta removed Thaksin, his younger sister, Yingluck, was likewise swept into power with a big election win- then found herself extracted by yet another coup in 2014.
The Shinawatras are controversial, with some viewing Thaksin as a strongman tarnished by allegations of corruption. But his family’s political success points to the durability of his legacy in Thai politics. Over 20 years after Thaksin first took office, his daughter is the pre-eminent figure of Thailand’s opposition.
It’s hard to say what could happen in this upcoming election. NIDA’s numbers for Pheu Thai and the opposition overall are strong, though few observers can expect the government to play fair after the experience of the last vote. In 2019, the opposition at times seemed positioned for a win, and ended up with a more muted result than anticipated. Another recent poll shows right-wing parties potentially amounting to a majority, but it’s hard to tell which story will ultimately play out; the election is set for May, which leaves ample room for further developments.
And even if Pheu Thai do win, there is coalition drama at play. One Pheu Thai source told the Bangkok Times recently that a coalition between Pheu Thai and the current leading party of the junta, PPRP, might be in the cards if they secure a majority together. The dynamic speaks to the internal drama playing out within their ranks (the incumbent PM recently defected to another party). Given the wild variations in the polling, anything could be possible.
Paetongtarn is young, only 36 years old, which would instantly make her the youngest national leader in the world in the event she does take office. Her Instagram is immediately reminiscent of an average millennial, serving slice-of-life glimpses on a roughly daily basis.
One frequent guest star in her posts? Her father, who many believe is waiting for an opposition victory to stage a grand return to the country. Much remains unclear about what will unfold in this election, but the looming presence of Thaksin appears to be a certainty.
“Nepo babies” are suddenly all over the news.
This is also nowhere near the only major political nepotism story we’ve seen lately.
Gabriel Boric, at the moment the youngest world leader, is about a few months older than Paetongtarn.
The potential alliance with PPRP may seem strange, but neighboring Malaysia just saw the opposition ascend to power with the support of their former arch-rivals, Barisan Nasional.