Thaksin Shinawatra is perhaps the most influential political figure in Thailand for the past two decades. The former police lieutenant made a massive fortune by acquiring government monopoly contracts, making his company, Advanced Information Services (AIS), the largest mobile phone operator in Thailand. Thaksin was the founder of the Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) (the predecessor to the People’s Power Party and Pheu Thai Party,) with which he would win massive electoral victories in the 2001 and 2005 general elections. Thaksin was Thailand’s Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006, when he was deposed via military coup. He remains in self-imposed exile, avoiding several corruption convictions in Thailand. Nonetheless, every general election since his ouster has been won by proxy parties successors of TRT, proof that the former PM remains immensely popular in Thailand.
General Prayut Chan-o-cha is the incumbent prime minister of Thailand, head of the NCPO, prime ministerial candidate for Palang Pracharat. The military strongman seized power during the 2014 military coup which overthrew Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. Although credited with restoring peace, Prayut has achieved such peace by heavily restricting the political rights and free-speech of his critics. His impatience for discenters might be best exemplified by his multiple temper tantrums and walkouts during press conferences, as well as his “jokes” of executing journalist.
Thaksin’s younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is the former leader of Pheu Thai and Thailand's first female Prime Minister. She was PM from 2011 to 2014, when she was removed by the Constitutional Court and a later military coup. Like her brother, Yingluck now resides in self-imposed exile, escaping criminal convictions for her role in the now infamous rice scheme implemented by her administration.
Another in a long line of Thai businessman turned politician, Thanathorn has come from relative obscurity to the forefront of Thai politics in under a year. As the leader of the new Future Forward Party, Thanathorn’s driving message is eliminating military influence in politics and stopping any future coups. This message has resonated particularly well with young voters. His domination social media platforms is perhaps the cause and/or result of his appeal to Thai youth.
Sudarat Keyuraphan is a veteran politician and the only female frontrunner in the upcoming elections. She is the leader and prime ministerial candidate of Pheu Thai, the latest pro-Thaksin party and winners of the last general election. She is a seasoned politician, holding important government positions such as agriculture minister, public health minister, deputy interior minister, and deputy transport minister. As a senior member of Thaksin’s original Thai Rak Thai Party, she received a five-year political ban by the Constitutional Court when the party was dissolved in 2007. Staying true to the Thaksin brand, Sudarat ran on populist policies and has suggested a 10% cut to the military budget.
Abhisit Vejjajiva is a former prime minister and former leader of the Democrat Party for over a decade. He previously came to power in 2008 after the dissolution of the People’s Power Party by the Constitutional Court. Abhisit’s time in office was marked by massive Red Shirt protest calling for new elections, which were subsequently put down though military/police force, leaving more than 90 dead. Although he faced murder charges for his role in the crackdown, those would later be dropped. Despite being well known for eloquence and fluency in both Thai and English, his leadership skills are often questioned by political rivals who accuse him of being “all talk.”
He resigned as leader of the Democrat party the night of the March 2019 elections after a poor showing at the polls.
Suthep Thaugsuban is a former Member of Parliament, former secretary general of the Democrat Party, and former Deputy Prime Minister under Abhisit. He famously resigned his seat in Parliament and party leadership position, to head the yellow shirt protests which lead to the fall of the Yingluck administration. After the 2014 coup, he was detained for 4 days by the junta and became a monk soon after his release, vowing to permanently retire from politics.
Now Suthep is back, to no one's surprise. The focus of his political firebrand this time is the promotion of his new pro-junta party, the Action Coalition for Thailand Party. Suthep also publicly pressured Abhisit to work with the Palang Pracharat and General Prayut.