After three decades, Sudarat is still leading the way
Thai Sang Thai Party leader Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan is among the few women at the forefront of Thai politics and considered one of the most qualified candidates for the post of prime minister due to her decades of experience, which includes holding key government positions.
When she declared her candidacy for the post of prime minister on December 17 last year, Sudarat stressed she was one of the few women in politics.
“Women politicians must develop themselves by working hard. Political parties must support women in politics and provide inspiration for more women to enter politics,” Sudarat said. “Women must be inspired to rise up to fight. When the ratio of women in Parliament becomes high enough, I believe they will help develop Thai politics and society.”
For the upcoming general election, tentatively scheduled on May 7, Sudarat is one of two strong female candidates vying for the post of prime minister, after the Pheu Thai Party’s Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Sudarat, however, is the only female party leader in the contest.
When she said she was running to be prime minister, Sudarat recounted that the situation was much worse for women when she entered politics in 1992. Then, women were seen as decorative props in the House of Representatives.
Sudarat, however, says that being a woman allows her to view issues with prudence and heightens her awareness of the importance of education and social issues.
If the ratio of women in Thai politics rose to 30% of the total, they would have a bigger impact on the country’s development, Sudarat said.
She was born in Bangkok on May 1 1961 to Sompon Keyurapan and Renu Keyuraphan. Her father was a former MP representing Nakhon Ratchasima.
Sudarat is married to real-estate entrepreneur Somyos Leelapunyalert. They have three children: Phumphat, Peeraphat, and Yossuda.
After finishing secondary school at St Joseph Convent School, she earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy. She then earned an MBA from the university’s Sasin School of Management and a doctorate in Buddhism from Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University.
Sudarat made her political debut by winning a House seat in Bangkok’s Constituency 12 in the March 22, 1992 election under the banner of the Palang Dharma Party. She was re-elected in September of the same year and appointed deputy government spokesperson for Chuan Leekpai’s government.
In 1994, Sudarat became the party’s secretary-general and was appointed deputy minister of transport.
After being reelected in 1995, she became deputy interior minister in the government of Banharn Silpa-archa.
A year later, in the 1996 election, Sudarat retained her House seat even though the Palang Dharma Party was wiped out. She was the only MP from the party elected.
Two years later, Sudarat co-founded the Thai Rak Thai Party with Thaksin Shinawatra and 21 others, including Somkid Jatusripitak, Thanong Bidaya, Purachai Piumsombun, Thammarak Isaragura na Ayuthaya, and Prommin Lertsuridej. She became its deputy leader.
In the 2001 election, Sudarat was elected as a Thai Rak Thai MP and appointed public health minister on February 17 under the Thaksin government.
The 2006 election saw the Thai Rak Thai win over 61% of the vote, becoming the largest party, and Sudarat was appointed agricultural minister. Her government, however, was toppled in a coup in September 2006.
As one of 111 executive members of the Thai Rak Thai, she was banned from political activities for five years following the coup.
Sudarat returned to politics in the 2019 general election as a prime ministerial candidate for Pheu Thai.
Initially, her Thai Sang Thai was seen as a branch or offshoot of Pheu Thai. A party source, however, said Sudarat severed her ties with Pheu Thai after the party changed its executive board in October last year.
The source said Sudarat’s aides, including Bhokin Palakula and Watana Muangsuk, were removed from key posts in the party. Sudarat herself was removed from the so-called politburo of the party, prompting her to decide to form her own party.