People

Politics runs in the Shinawatra family

(Clockwise from top left) Ms Monthathip, one of Yingluck's sisters, Ms Chayika Wongnapachant, Yingluck's niece, Ms Yaowapa, another of Yingluck's sisters, and Ms Yaowapa's son, Dr Yodchanan Wongsawat.
(Clockwise from top left) Ms Monthathip, one of Yingluck's sisters, Ms Chayika Wongnapachant, Yingluck's niece, Ms Yaowapa, another of Yingluck's sisters, and Ms Yaowapa's son, Dr Yodchanan Wongsawat. PHOTOS: THE NATION, BANGKOK / TWITTER.COM/CHAYIKA / EPA / ST FILE

Family members have held posts from MP to deputy minister, and several are still in politics

The shock disappearance of ousted Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra last week has fuelled belief that her family's political influence will wane.

Yingluck, the 50-year-old younger sister of self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is said to have left Thailand for Dubai just before judges were due to announce whether she was guilty of criminal negligence over her government's controversial rice subsidy scheme. A warrant has been issued for her arrest.

Yet several members of the extended Shinawatra family remain in politics, and the wealthy clan is a fixture in the business world.

Politics runs in the family based in northern Chiang Mai. Thaksin and Yingluck's father, Mr Lert Shinawatra, was a businessman turned member of Parliament for Chiang Mai. Their uncle, Sujate, used to be a Chiang Mai mayor. Another uncle, Suraphan, was a legislator who rose to become deputy transport minister under then Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda in the 1980s.

While the Shinawatras were known for their silk business in Chiang Mai, Thaksin, now 68, made his mark in telecommunications. Using his business savvy in politics, he tapped the rural vote to engineer a landslide victory for his Thai Rak Thai party in the 2001 elections.

Yingluck is the youngest sibling in the brood of 10, and Thaksin the second-eldest. One sister, Ms Yaowapa, 62, was elected in 2001 as a legislator in Chiang Mai. A brother, 60-year-old Payap, was elected in 2005, also in Chiang Mai.

But it was Yingluck who made the biggest waves, bursting onto the scene during the 2011 elections as the top candidate for the Puea Thai party, which was formed after the court-ordered dissolution of another Thaksin-backed party.

Yingluck, former chairman of the family's property firm, SC Asset Corporation, was derided as yet another nominee of exiled Thaksin.

Barely three years before that, Ms Yaowapa's husband and former judge, Mr Somchai Wongsawat, had been installed as prime minister but was removed by a court ruling after large protests.

While Yingluck never quite shook off the perception that she was Thaksin's proxy, she grew into her role during her three years as Thailand's first female prime minister. She maintained a high profile even after her government was ousted by a military coup and clamped down on political activities.

Yingluck faced up to 10 years' jail had the judgment gone against her last Friday. But imprisonment would have created a powerful martyr figure in the Puea Thai camp, and a possible rallying point for anti-junta activists.

With Yingluck out of the picture, public attention has turned to another sister, Ms Monthathip. The 58-year-old businesswoman denies she has any political ambition.

"I want to live peacefully," she told reporters last Friday. "I am someone who prefers tranquility. My only wish for my family is that all of them be happy."

Asked to comment on talk she would eventually step up as the new leader of Puea Thai, she said: "No, I have never thought about it. I am not capable. There are other people more suitable."

While Thaksin-backed parties have never tasted electoral defeat since 2001, opponents blame the Shinawatras for Thailand's deep political divisions. They want the clan out of politics. But with an election date yet to be announced by the military government, Puea Thai's future direction is still unclear.

A younger generation of Shinawatras remain in the picture.

Ms Yaowapa's 37-year-old son, Dr Yodchanan Wongsawat, registered as a Puea Thai candidate for the Feb 2, 2014, election to defend her seat in Chiang Mai. The University of Texas graduate is an engineering academic in Mahidol University. That election was aborted after sabotage by protesters.

Meanwhile, Yingluck's niece, Ms Chayika Wongnapachant, 38, helped manage her aunt's social media presence during her term as prime minister. After Yingluck was toppled by a court ruling in 2014, the management studies graduate from Seattle University continued in the same role behind the scenes. Her Twitter account, which has 16,800 followers, declares that she is "not a politician, only a person who works in politics".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2017, with the headline 'Politics runs in the Shinawatra family'. Print Edition | Subscribe