Who is he?
Mr. Phongthep Thepkanjana held a number of important political positions under former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who the military ousted from government in a 2006 coup d’état. He served as Minister of Justice, Minister of Energy, Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office, and Deputy Leader of the now disbanded Thai Rak Thai party, which was dissolved in 2007, and whose members were banned from politics for five years. The ban was lifted June 1, 2012. Additionally, Phongthep is a former member of the House of Representatives of Thailand and was a member of the 1997 constitution drafting assembly.
Phongthep earned a LLB from Thammasat University, a Master of Comparative Law in Foreign Practice and a Master of Comparative Law in American Practice from the George Washington University Law School, and a Barrister at Law from the Thai Bar.
Why is he in the news?
In her third cabinet reshuffle since taking office August 2011, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra named Phongthep Thepkanjana Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. The reshuffle was sparked by both the aforementioned expiration of political participation bans on former Thai Rak Thai members and Yongyuth Wichaidit’s October 1 resignation from his positions as Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. The new ministers were sworn in before King Bhumibol November 1 at Siriraj Hospital.
Phongthep is one of six former members of Thai Rak Thai to re-renter politics since the political ban ended. His appointment demonstrates a stronger Yingluck cabinet, as well as the continued influence of the Shinawatra clan on Thai politics and political appointments.
What can we expect from him?
Phongthep is the third new Education Minister appointed to office under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and it is unclear if he will have a significant impact on the administration of the Ministry of Education. That said, he is already pushing to revive a scholarship program for underprivileged youths, and is pushing for inquiries into allegations of corruption by the ministry.
His appointment to political office is a prime example of Yingluck’s drive to surround herself and by extension her brother Thaksin with seasoned political allies. Phongthep’s experience in the 1997 constitution drafting assembly also indicates he could be involved in efforts by the ruling Pheu Thai Party to attempt to amend or redraft the 2007 constitution, which was established by the Thai military.