BANGKOK May 7 With his willingness to
compromise and public relations skills, Thailand's new
caretaker prime minister, Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, may be
what is needed to take the heat out of a political crisis that
is close to boiling point.
Niwatthamrong, 66, will hold the fort until elections
tentatively slated for July 20, but he inherits a stuttering
economy and limited powers that for months dogged predecessor
Yingluck Shinawatra, who the Constitutional Court ordered to
step down on Wednesday for abuse of power.
While barely known outside Thailand, Niwatthamrong has been
in and around the fringes of Thai politics for years and has
earned the trust of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's exiled
brother and founder of a populist political juggernaut that has
won every election for the past 13 years.
Niwatthamrong was chief executive of broadcaster iTV, the
once independent television channel that became the Shinawatras'
public relations machine when Thaksin's telecoms conglomerate
Shin Corporation bought a majority stake in it during his first
term in office from 2001-2005.
Niwatthamrong was an executive with Shin Corp where he sat
on board meetings with Yingluck, who was at the time a CEO of
its unit, cellphone operator Advanced Info Service.
He was brought into politics to help neophyte Yingluck in
2011 as part of a team that crafted her public image and swept
her to power in a landslide election win.
He then served as a minister in her office, in charge of
public relations and the media. Considered a safe pair of hands,
he was later given the commerce portfolio to manage the fallout
of a rice price guarantee scheme that incurred massive losses.
"Thaksin trusts him a lot, he's got a reputation as a good
networker who knows PR and can deal with all sides," said
Naruemon Thabchumpon, a political science lecturer at Bangkok's
"Niwatthamrong is not abrasive and he knows not to make
enemies, especially at this time."
His close allegiance with the Shinawatras means he is
unlikely to placate conservatives and anti-government
protesters, who numbered more than 200,000 in some Bangkok
rallies and forced the annulment of a Feb. 2 election.
After half a year of turmoil, Thaksin's Puea Thai Party
would be content just to hang on for a few months longer until
an election it is almost certain to win, with or without a
Shinawatra on the ticket.
"The urgent priority for us is ensuring a new election is
scheduled," caretaker education minister, Chaturon Chaisang,
told Reuters. "Niwatthamrong is a compromising person and he'll
have everyone helping him all the way."
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)