Beer heiress drops police bid

Ms Chitpas Kridakorn announced the withdrawal of her police job application at a press conference in a Bangkok hotel.
Ms Chitpas Kridakorn announced the withdrawal of her police job application at a press conference in a Bangkok hotel.PHOTO: TANANAKORN SINGTONGANUN

Sitting alone at the table in an elegant blue dress matched with pearl earrings, Ms Chitpas Kridakorn's voice quivered as she addressed a crowd of reporters gathered in Bangkok's Dusit Thani hotel.

"To avoid causing any discomfort in Thai society, especially among the police… Tant decided not to take further steps in being selected as a police officer," she said, referring to herself by her nickname.

That declaration two weeks ago was the culmination of the latest controversy dogging the socialite and aspiring politician. 

The 30-year-old British-educated beer heiress, who once said her dream was to become prime minister, had unexpectedly applied for a job in the police force.

There was just one problem: She spent the most part of last year on the streets of Bangkok as one of the leaders of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which rallied thousands of protesters to breach police lines as they occupied the streets and government buildings to topple the Yingluck Shinawatra-led government. It eventually led to a coup that ushered in the current military government.

In one infamous incident, Ms Chitpas got into a backhoe as protesters tried to break through the police cordons.

The seven month-long protest left at least two policemen dead and scores more injured.

In response to news leaked on social media that Ms Chitpas was making headway in her application to join the police force, police officers tied black ribbons around the antenna of their radio equipment in a silent protest.

Ms Chitpas had applied for a job as deputy inspector in the Patrol and Special Operations Division or "191" unit. Police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri did little to douse speculation that the post had been specially created for her when he revealed the post was new and required a "technical expert". 

The commander of the 191 unit, police Major-General Panurat Lakboon, was cited by local daily Khaosod as saying:  "It is nice of Ms Chitpas to apply for a job with the police, because we need female police officers who are talented in English, in order to prepare for Thailand's entry to the Asean Economic Community."

In the end, the allegations of nepotism and privilege overwhelmed her, and she withdrew her application.

Born to a minor royal and scion of the Boon Rawd Brewery empire, which manufactures the ubiquitous Singha and Leo beers, Ms Chitpas spent most of her schooling years in Buckinghamshire and Gloucestershire in Britain. In 2006, she graduated with a degree in geography from King's College London.

But her heart has always been set on politics.  In 2009, the self-professed Barbie doll fan and biker worked as an aide to Dr Panitan Wattanayagorn, deputy secretary-general to then premier Abhisit Vejjajiva. She was forced to resign the same year after being found distributing Boon Rawd calendars featuring painted nude models around her workplace. 

In 2011, she ran for Parliament as a Democrat Party candidate, but lost to a candidate from Puea Thai, which swept to power that year.

During that campaign trail, she had told Malaysia's The Star daily: "You can't really pick what you are born into but you can pick the life that you want to have and this is the life that I have chosen."

She continued her work with the Democrats as a deputy spokesman, before its then deputy leader Suthep Thaugsuban left in 2013 to foment a street protest against the Yingluck government.

Ms Chitpas joined him as one of the protest leaders, putting a youthful, photogenic and media-savvy face to the movement. But it was there she waded into her biggest controversy yet.

In an interview with the Agence France-Presse news agency in 2013, she said that many Thais lack a "true understanding of democracy... especially in the rural areas".

The ensuring outcry - especially among the rural consumers of Singha beer - prompted her family to pressure her to drop the Bhirombhakdi surname. She switched to using her mother's family name of Kridakorn instead.

Today, with political activities suppressed under the military government, she serves as a committee member of the PDRC's foundation.

Despite being romantically linked to Mr Suthep's son Akanat Promphan, she is reportedly single.

Her personal website continues to detail her lingering political ambition. "I wish to participate in reforming and developing our country, as well as creating unity among Thais," she writes. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'Beer heiress drops police bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe