A super-wealthy construction scion who ran a pro-marijuana platform ahead of Thailand’s election has emerged as a highly courted candidate as two main parties need his allegiance – and party seats – after the disputed vote.
The Bhumjaithai Party – meaning “Thai Pride” – is fronted by mega-wealthy Anutin Charnvirakul, an amateur pilot, son of a construction tycoon and unlikely proponent of the medical benefits of marijuana.
Thailand held its first election since a 2014 coup last month, and Bhumjaithai has emerged as a key partner after winning 39 constituency seats in the lower house and finishing fifth in the popular vote.
Their campaign made waves by slapping green marijuana leaves on posters. It also touts deregulation for businesses, promotion of ride-hailing services and a four-day work week.
Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to approve cannabis use for medical purposes in December, but Bhumjaithai wants to allow households to grow six plants each in a decriminalised approach loosely based on the US state of California.
“Marijuana has more positive properties than negative,” the 52-year-old told AFP in an interview in his sleek Bangkok office almost two weeks after the Mar 24 poll.
The office has small airplane models, sculptures, and paintings of Thailand’s king and his late father.
Educated at Hofstra University in New York, Anutin maintains in the hallway a collection of original signatures of US presidents dating back to George Washington.
Dressed in a suit and drinking tea, the 52-year-old explained that his policies must be backed by groups looking for support in coalitions.
“We have to go with the party that will accept our policies,” he said, adding that he wants people to have access to the budding industry so big corporations don’t swoop in.
The choice is between the military-backed Phalang Pracharat Party, which has clinched the popular vote, or Pheu Thai, which has formed an alliance with six other anti-military parties and claims a majority in the lower house.
Analysts have also mentioned Anutin as a possible prime minister in a grand bargain that would include his party’s loyalty.
While he declined to specify which way he is leaning before full results are announced on May 9, Anutin said Bhumjaithai is looking for parties that emphasise unity, a “Thailand first” approach and reverence for the monarchy.