The heiress, the athletes and the pimp... Thailand's celebrity candidates

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 13, 2011 Ever since prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has announced the dissolution of parliament, thus paving the way for new federal elections on July 3, all political parties (and other groups) are now in full campaign mode giving all their best intentions to win over voters.

While the Puea Thai Party, the biggest opposition party, still hasn't decided on a front-runner yet (but most likely to field Thaksin's younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra as a PM candidate), many names are slowly popping up on the party-lists. Many of them are well-known, but not necessarily for their political work, rather for their illustrious past. Here are some of them...

The Nation writes about a young, attractive woman having a go at a constituency for the first time in her life - and it is not about Yingluck...

Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, a new Democrat Party MP candidate for Bangkok's Dusit-Ratchathewi constituency, is visiting residents around Sriyan Market to introduce herself before the coming election. "This week I'm still introducing myself because I am a 'newbie' and next week I'll be campaigning for the party," she said.

Although, she has been called a "new face", Chitpas is not really a "newbie" in politics. (...) She has been secretary to the Information and Communications Technology minister since 2009 and has been closely involved in politics. (...)

The Democrat Party is highly democratic and has a good political ideology because it is not "led by a capitalist", she said.

"'Newbie' hopes to make political waves", The Nation, May 12, 2011

What the article glaringly omits though is the real background of the 25-year-old: Chitpas Bhirombhakdi is the daughter of Chutinant Bhirombhakdi, executive vice-president of Singha Corporation - and often referred to as the 'heiress' of the beer brewery.

However, the biggest glaring omission of that article (and telling for The Nation's work) was she had more work experience than just at the MICT: Chitpas was a staff member of the PM's secretariat office. In late 2009, her parents' enterprise produced a raunchy pin-up calendar to promote "Leo" beer, a product of the Singha Corporation. The depicted, body-painted ladies caused a stir (very reminiscent to the recent Songkran brouhaha) and it also legally forbidden to advertise alcoholic drinks - no matter if these calendars are given out free or for purchase - and circulation has been stopped. And then this happened:

The hot, hot, hot Leo calendar brought heat to the Bhirombhakdi family that controls Singha Corporation when a Singha heiress brought them to work – the Government House (Thai Prime Minister’s office).

On Wednesday, Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, a 23-year-old daughter of the executive vice-president of Singha Corporation, took out two boxes of calendars from the trunk of her BMW and distributed them at the Government House in Bangkok.

Government House officials (including deputy government spokesmen Phumin Leetheeraprasert and Supachai Jaisamut), MPs, police and journalists (covering the Government House beat) lined up to accept Chitpas’ generosity and within a few minutes, about 200 copies were snapped up.

"Stir over girly calendar", by Philip Golingai, The Star (Malaysia), December 19, 2009

She later resigned from her post after much, much public pressure and issued an official apology - displaying a more sincere behavior than all the officers who hounded her to get one. This is by no means meant to discredit Miss Chitpas, who at least showed more responsibility than many senior political figures, rather this is supposed to showcase the glaring omission the author of the article has (willingly?) done.

Not to be outdone, the Democrat Party really seems to leave nothing to chance, since their literally all-star party-list includes "30 electoral candidates who are celebrities and heirs of political families". Another party that banks on a similar strategy is the Chart Pattana Puea Pandin Party (quite a mouthful name, I know), a hybrid of two parties, which were part of the government coalition. This party goes all out on one particular niche:

The coalition Chart Pattana Puea Pandin Party yesterday formally introduced former soccer hero Piyapong Piew-on as a new member. He is the latest athletic celebrity to join the party, which boasts sports heavyweight Suwat Liptapanlop as its de facto leader.

The party has already enlisted Paradorn Srichaphan, who reached ninth in the world professional men's tennis rankings, and Yaowapa Burapholchai, who bagged a bronze medal for women's taekwondo at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

"Sports heroes carry parties towards election goals", The Nation, May 11, 2011

This all-star-team comes with a whole laundry list of sport-specific policies, which includes the creations of sports complexes and more financial support for all national sporting associations. Other parties have also enlisted former sport heros, such as olympic boxing gold medalist Somluck Khamsing, who will run with three other former boxing champions for the Chart Thai Pattana Party (not to be confused with the other party with the similar name) - hoping to follow the same example set by another boxing champion in the region.

And to round up the luminary list of curious electoral contenders, an old veteran returns to the political stage in his trademark fashion:

Outspoken politician Chuwit Kamolvisit has launched his own party, aided by a bull terrier.

Mr Chuwit launched his Rak Prathet Thai (Love Thailand) Party at his home in Sukhumvit Soi 10 yesterday. His home will also serve as the party's headquarters.

The massage parlour tycoon-turned-politician who has tried to portray himself as an anti-vice and corruption crusader said his party would work on the opposition benches to monitor the government. (...)

During his party launch, he showed his pet dog, a bull terrier, saying the dog was a symbol of loyalty and honesty.

"Chuwit out to hound govt with new party", Bangkok Post, May 13, 2011

Weighing in with a field of 10 electoral candidates (untypical modest for Chuwit), the primary goal is to be the opposition watchdog (pun intended) to the next government. Unlike all parties mentioned above, the now self-proclaim 'Mr. Clean' claims not to field celebrities but ordinary people - many would say that Chuwit is the star of the party anyways! Certainly Chuwit is one of the most colorful personalities in Thai politics and always a source for head-turning (and sometimes -scratching) activism.

So, there have it: a beer-heiress, several former athletes and a flamboyant former massage parlor-tycoon - if it the current situation wasn't so serious, the backbenchers make up for a very entertaining two-month-campaign.

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