The reemergence of Purachai, popular for spearheading the Thai Rak Thai “social order” campaign, is a fascinating addition to the political landscape.
In the early 2000s, Thaksin was setting himself up as a life-long PM in the style of governments in Malaysia and Singapore. Those governments, which included strict control of the press by the ruling party, led to both quick development and rising living standards.
Purachai, as Thaksin’s Interior Minister, became popular as a moral crusader over issues Thai society continually wrings its hands over. The issues and attitudes that were promoted were ones Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai were know for: admonishing young women over a number of issues (including not wearing spaghetti strap blouses), enforcing limits on alcohol sales and age limits in bars, objecting to racy fashions shows on TV, and taking a dim view of homosexuality. On one hand these issues represent Thaksin’s insistence on following regulations to the letter (in opposition to normal Thai expectations of compromise) and on the other hand the new Thai upper classes’ view of traditional Thai vice and lasciviousness.
Government leadership on these issues proved very popular with the public and, coupled with Purachai’s squeaky clean image, quickly saw him labeled by the press as a successor to Thaksin. Public opinion polls showed him only second in popularity to the PM. During the Thaksin years, anyone labeled by the press as being successor to him saw their political futures cut short. Purachai was not only drummed out of the party, but was strong-armed into retiring from politics altogether.
Since then Purachai has been a perennial favorite in public opinion polls as a future PM. However, as a resigning academic with an uncompromising attitude, it may be that he does not have the aggression or pragmatism to lead and hold together a coalition. His reemergence into politics is yet another fascinating variable in the developing electoral landscape.