THAILAND: Actor, ex-anchorman weigh up poll victory

After being elected to Senate, actor Sombat Methanee and ex-anchorman Boonyod Suktinthai turn to social issues and media reform

Bangkok Post
Friday, April 21, 2006

By Preeyanat Phanayanggoor and Anjira Assavanonda

As political novices, actor Sombat Methanee and ex-anchorman Boonyod Suktinthai are ready to face the challenge of working under pressure in the upper house, largely occupied by proxies of the Thai Rak Thai party. Mr Sombat, whose victory in Wednesday's poll earned him the nickname of "the Arnie of Thai politics" after US movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was elected governor of California in 2003, said he is ready to prove he can work for the country.

He said the victory was a big surprise to him and to other political observers.

The unofficial poll result showed Mr Sombat received more than 53,500 votes, beating veteran politicians like Uthai Pimchaichon, who got about 25,000 votes.

"It was beyond my expectation. At first, I simply hoped I would be just one of the 18 senators."

The actor-turned-politician believes city voters picked him because of his flawless image in showbiz over the past 46 years. Moreover, he has won recognition as a family man and a responsible actor.

"I have been interested in politics for quite a while but after listening to a speech by Her Majesty the Queen about the duty of Thai people to do something good for the country, I decided to do something more than attending the annual Red Cross fair as a film star."

He said he intends to work on social issues such as promoting social ethics, morality and family values as well as creating a social safety net for pensioners.

He realises it will not be easy to work in the "proxy" Senate, vowing to work closely with "quality senators" like Nitiphum Nawarat and Klanarong Chanthik, perceived as the voices of the anti-Thai Rak Thai movement. "For me, honesty is the most important thing, particularly in politics. Dishonesty could turn someone from a lion, the king of the jungle, to an ordinary dog easily and I don't want it to happen to me," said the new Bangkok senator.

That very goal was shared by Mr Boonyod, who finally made it to the upper house, narrowly beating former city clerk Kriangsak Lohachala.

Mr Boonyod ranked 18th, the last quota seat for Bangkok.

"These are heavenly votes from people who have known and trusted me. Many helped by telling their friends and people they know to recognise my work and vote for me, even though I did not have any roadside posters like many other candidates," said Mr Boonyod.

He said what pushed him to run in the Senate election was the current political crisis and the government's interference in the media which he had also experienced himself.

Mr Boonyod came under the spotlight when he was removed from FM 101's Praden Khao Mai (Fresh News Issues) and TV Channel 3's Khao Wan Mai (Tomorrow's News) programmes as he often made critical comments about the government. He became more widely known by the public when he joined the anti-Thaksin rallies led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) prior to the April 2 general election.

In his new role as a representative of the media in the Senate, Mr Boonyod said he would focus on media reform, freedom of the press and the development of community radio. "There must be scrutiny if media interference takes place. The government must give a clear explanation of what it does if that's seen as intimidating press freedom and as a breach of the constitution," said Mr Boonyod.