By THE NATION
While Sudarat remains a potential top choice among candidates, she will have to work harder to rescue her image following the incident, said the source who requested anonymity.
The former minister shot herself in the foot when she accompanied a truck through her political base, Lat Pla Kaho region of Bangkok, encouraging marigold-planting in tribute to the late King on Sunday.
Sudarat responded with a teary apology a day later following criticism.
The tears, however, did not fully succeed in toning down criticism of the seeming opportunism and inappropriate political marketing as activities ramp up for the late King’s funeral.
But this incident will not be the death knell of Sudarat the politician who has two decades of experience. Within the party itself, Sudarat continues to enjoy the support of Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra, the former wife of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin, the party’s de facto navigator, has avoided sending any negative signals about Sudarat’s move. If he gives her a pass, less pressure from other players in the party can then be predicted.
That, however, would leave Thaksin with a price to pay.
While Sudarat is rather powerful among Bangkok-based politicians, her influence is limited in rural provinces. She is also disliked by some influential party figures such as Thaksin’s sister, Yaowapha Wongsawat, and former deputy PM Pol Captain Chalerm Yubamrung.
If Thaksin gives the nod for her to run for party leader, he would be required to make deals with former MPs who oppose Sudarat, and it is very likely some of them may leave.
Other candidates to watch include Chaturon Chaisang, Bhokin Balakul, Phongthep Thepkanjana, Chaikasem Nitisiri and Chadchart Sittipunt. All are former ministers.
While they remain politically static, Chadchart recently hit the headlines after refusing to work with the junta on drafting the legally binding 20-year national strategy.
Already popular for his down-to-earth and witty personality, the former transport minister won public plaudits for his stance.
According to the Pheu Thai source, Thaksin’s sister Yaowapha supports Chadchart.
The seat of Pheu Thai leader has been vacant since the previous leader, Charupong Ruangsuwan, fled Thailand rather than obey an order to report to the junta shortly after the 2014 coup.
Although the junta ban on political activities is still in place, the organic law on political party has already been enacted, prompting parties to prepare themselves accordingly.
Founded in 2007, Pheu Thai Party is the third incarnation of Thaksin’s political aspirations following the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai Party and the People’s Power Party.
Pheu Thai’s biggest success was nominating Yingluck Shinawatra as leader shortly before the 2011 election, which the party won, catapulting her to prime minister.