SA KAEO, Thailand: Politics is a family affair for the Thienthong clan, one of Thailand’s most enduring political dynasties, with five members running in next month’s general election, for two different parties.
They are one of a number of families woven into the fabric of Thai politics – the most famous of which is the Shinawatras, whose patriarch Thaksin was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 and continues to loom large from exile abroad.
The financial rewards of elected office – an MP earns around US$3,500 a month – may be little more than loose change to these ultra-wealthy clans, but the influence it brings can be highly profitable to their business interests.
The Thienthong family built their wealth on a successful logistics business in their eastern heartland – which includes a major border crossing to Cambodia – and have dominated the region’s politics since the 1970s.
In the run-up to the May 14 vote, theirs is the name plastered on campaign posters along the rough country roads of poor, rural Sa Kaeo province.
Kwanruen Thienthong, her daughter Treenuch and nephew Sorawong are all contesting the three constituency seats up for grabs in Sa Kaeo.
Sorawong is running for Pheu Thai, the main opposition party riding high in the polls, while the two women are with the army-backed Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) which led the outgoing ruling coalition.
Sorawong’s brothers are also running for Pheu Thai: Surachart in a Bangkok constituency, and Surakiat, on the party list.
“Politics is politics. Family is family. We have different standpoints in politics but we’re still family,” Sorawong tells AFP.
Treenuch began her career as an MP with a forerunner party of Pheu Thai more than 20 years ago but switched to PPRP, was re-elected in 2019 and serves as education minister.
For voters in Sa Kaeo the family’s track record on the ground matters more than party names or political ideology.
“They go down to every area and when there’s work or there are requests for help from the locals, they help,” Treenuch supporter Sirinthip Sawangkloi told AFP at a noisy rally.