Potjaman Damapong Shinawatra: Geomancer
Wife of THAILAND's Former Prime Minister
"Don't worry. I always consult my wife." Thaksin Shinawatra once told reporters. To many, this is precisely the cause for worry.
In her late 50s, Khunying (lady) Potjaman Damapong Shinawatra, daughter of a police general and mother of three children, looms large in the life of her husband of 31 years.
It was her family that helped a young Thaksin, a Chinese Thai from a wealthy family in Chiang Mai in the north, to advance rapidly through the ranks of the police force. Thaksin secured his PhD in law while in the force, and retired a lieutenant colonel.
It was Potjaman who helped a middle-aged Thaksin to secure valuable phone and satellite licences from the government of Thailand. Under her stewardship, Shin Corp, the family holding company has grown to be Thailand’s top telecom conglomerate. This January the Shinawatra and Damapong clans sold a controlling stake of Shin Corp to a consortium led by Temasek Holdings of Singapore this January for US$1.89 billion. And it was the political connections of Potjaman that assisted the greying Thaksin, who became prime minister in 2001, to consolidate his power base in his Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) party.
Potjaman, called "Female Boss" in Bangkok’s corridors of power, used to be considered just a step below her husband, the "Big Boss". Not anymore. Last year, when the post of interior minister was vacant, it was Potjaman rather than her husband who appointed retiring air force chief ACM Kongsak Wantana to the job. Kongsak’s wife Salilawal, also from the air force, was one of Potjaman’s most trusted secretaries.
Now the First Lady has taken on a new role: she has become Thaksin’s personal conduit to the powers beyond this earth.
Thaksin is famous for going to great lengths to propitiate the gods and demons to protect his fortune. He has had a run of bad luck. He was blamed by fortune tellers for the 2004 tsunami that killed thousands. His personal astrologer Samridh Kaokrieng told him the stars were aligned against him and he should quit. (Samridh was promptly sacked.) In March, when sentiment against his family selling Shin Corp and escaping taxes using a legal loophole was reaching a peak, the revered Erawan Shrine in the heart of Bangkok was destroyed by a mentally disturbed man. Many saw it as a sign presaging Thaksin’s downfall.
On each occasion, it was Potjaman who intervened between her husband and the beyond.
She made him ride an elephant during the election campaign to bring good luck. She hired a famous feng shui master (geomancer) to rearrange the interior of the TRT headquarters. She installed a pair of statues of singha, a mythical animal, at the entrance. She installed a new spirit house in the driveway. Two days after her hard work, a tile fell off the outside wall and smashed into pieces near the spirit house. It could be a sign that Potjaman, who had guided her husband for so long, was losing her touch.
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