IT HAS BEEN A QUARTER of a century since senior members of the Soi Rajakrue elite clique completely stopped playing the roles of a powerhouse over Thailand’s complicated, cloak-and-dagger politics due to the passing of former prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan in 1998. Now the fourth generation of Soi Rajakrue figures has virtually come of age, quietly taking their turn to perform in the political limelight, albeit not as conspicuously or pivotally as the previous generations had.
Soi Rajakrue refers to the name of an ordinary-looking lane off Phaholyothin Road in one of Bangkok’s inner districts resided by generation after generation of conservative, elite politicians and their family members, beginning with their great-grandfather Pin Choonhavan who headed the first generation of the ruling powerhouse.
The teary-eyed, retired general Pin orchestrated a coup in 1947 which finally resulted in army strongman Plaek aka Por Pibulsongkhram’s return to power as prime minister and the naming of himself as army chief.
Four years later, Pin was instrumental to the staging of another coup following an aborted navy rebellion with an attempted arrest of the prime minister aboard a US-built dredger boat named Manhattan in Chao Phraya River since the navy, known to have more or less exerted influence over one of Plaek’s successors, Pridi Panomyong, had developed conflict with the army.
Following the quelling of the rebellious navy forces and the 1951 coup, Pin had flexed his powers and made the presence of Soi Rajakrue felt among the rank and file of both military and political echelons until the Plaek government was overthrown in the 1957 coup by the then-army chief Sarit Thanarat.
Then came the second generation of the Soi Rajakrue powerhouse headed by Chatichai, the only son of Pin who was named prime minister after the 1988 election and remained in power until he was ousted in the 1991 coup.
The lighthearted Chatichai who had served as a diplomat and foreign minister in previous years ahead of his elected premiership initiated the famous policy which literally turned the Indochina region from a battlefield to a marketplace.
The coup junta had alleged members of the Chatichai cabinet of perpetrating corruption in office though such allegations were merely seen as a thinly-veiled excuse which precluded the planned removal of certain politically-inspired army generals from powerful posts.
Chatichai’s fellow Soi Rajakrue figures included his brothers-in-law Pramarn Adireksarn who had been given the seats of a deputy prime minister and interior minister, among other cabinet posts at separate intervals, and Pao Sriyanond as a powerful police chief. Chatichai succeeded Pramarn as leader of the original Chart Thai and finally landed himself the premiership after his party had won most MP seats in the 1988 election.
Even after the coup which had deprived Chatichai of power, all roads still virtually led to his Soi Rajakrue home where he continued to reside and was invariably regarded as a mentor for power play among the politicians on either side of the parliament chamber’s aisle who may have taken liberty to visit him and solicit his advice daily. The visiting VIPs included the likes of former prime ministers Banharn Silpa-archa and Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, to name a few.
The lane running through the residential area looked quite narrow and congested with dozens of automobiles boarded by visitors barely finding space to park around. No matter whether talk ranging from chitchats to negotiations may have been fruitful or futile, a smorgasbord of selected foods were indiscriminately served to all guests at Chatichai’s home from breakfast to lunch and dinner day in, day out.
Finally, the Soi Rajakrue powerhouse came to a close upon the passing of Chatichai as head of the second generation of the distinguished clique whilst the following generations evidently have not had much in comparison as far as national politics was concerned.
The third generation of the Soi Rajakrue clique who obviously drew far less attention of the politicians, press members and general public than their forebears included Chatichai’s son Kraisak Choonhavan who was an elected senator of Nakhon Ratchasima, once a stronghold of the Chart Pattana founded by his father, a Democrat MP and then social development & human security minister.
Much to many people’s surprise, Kraisak was usually seen as an independent social and political critic who could have been spontaneously at odds with his father when it came to government policy matters and political agenda.
Kraisak’s fellow Soi Rajakrue figures included Chatichai’s nephew Korn Dabbaransi and Pramarn’s son Pongpol Adireksarn, the prime times of both saw them perform as deputy prime ministers and members of cabinet at several intervals.
Nevertheless, the trio of cousins appeared to have earned far less credibility to themselves, let alone personal influence, than their immediate forebears though they may have been generally viewed as relatively modern-day politicians over the last couple of decades.
Today, the fourth generation of the Soi Rajakrue clique includes Chatichai’s grandson-in-law Panpree Pahitthanukorn who currently performs as deputy prime minister-cum-foreign minister under the Pheu Thai banners.
Panpree, whose spouse Paveena Hongprapat is daughter of Chatichai’s daughter Vanee Choonhavan, was once named Thailand Trade Representative in the time of former prime minister/now de facto Pheu Thai boss Thaksin Shinawatra and chairman of the Petroleum Authority of Thailand’s board of directors in the time of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Another prominent figure of Soi Rajakrue’s fourth generation is Chatichai’s granddaughter Tisana Choonhavan, a first-time Move Forward MP of Bangkok.Tisana, daughter of the late Kraisak, is ironically among opposition lawmakers who are supposed to keep the Pheu Thai-led government in check whilst her home in the historic alley is next door to her elder cousin who is holding a couple of cabinet seats for the first time.
Top: The fourth generation of the Soi Rajakrue clique, Move Forward MP Tisana Choonhavan, left, and Deputy Prime Minister-cum-Foreign Minister Panpree Pahitthanukorn, right. Left photo: Matichon, right photo: Thai Rath
First insert: Three generations of Soi Rajakrue clique, from left, Pin Choonhavan, Chartchai Choonhavan and Kraisak Choonhavan. Photo: Workpointtoday.com
Second insert: Chartchai Choonhavan. Photo: Thai Rath
Third insert: Tisana Choonhavan. Photo: Matichon Weekly
Fourth insert: Panpree Pahitthanukorn. Photo: Thai Rath