Thailand's main opposition Pheu Thai party confirms that Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, will be one of its candidates for prime minister in upcoming elections
Thailand's main opposition Pheu Thai party confirms that Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, will be one of its candidates for prime minister in upcoming elections AFP

Thailand's main opposition Pheu Thai party confirmed on Wednesday the daughter of billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra as one of its candidates to be prime minister in the kingdom's upcoming election.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, a 36-year-old with a jet-setting lifestyle and half a million Instagram followers, stands in stark contrast to her establishment rivals, two strait-laced former army chiefs with a combined age of 146.

A sea of Pheu Thai supporters, wearing t-shirts in the party's signature colour red, tramped into a football stadium on the northern edge of Bangkok to see Paetongtarn anointed alongside businessman Srettha Thavisin and party strategist Chaikasem Nitisiri.

Paetongtarn, who has been campaigning energetically despite being eight months pregnant, said she relished the fight.

"It is going to be a challenge but we will go and communicate as much as possible," she told reporters.

The parties for the May 14 vote fall into two broad camps -- those backed by Thailand's military and royalist establishment, and more reformist opposition groups with Pheu Thai at their head.

Chief among the military-friendly candidates are current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, 69, who came to power in a coup in 2014, and 77-year-old ex-general Prawit Wongsuwan of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party.

Pheu Thai is riding high in the polls but may yet be blocked from seizing the top job by the kingdom's constitution, written in 2017 by the then-ruling military junta.

"Pheu Thai cannot win alone, country and people have to win together. So people should vote for their future with Pheu Thai," Paetongtarn said.

Thaksin, a 73-year-old telecoms tycoon, is one of the most influential and controversial figures in modern Thai history, still loved by his mainly working class and rural supporters but loathed by the country's royalist-military elite.

Ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup, he lives in Dubai to avoid corruption charges he says are politically motivated.

Paetongtarn is a newcomer to frontline politics but she has energised Thaksin's base.

A constant presence on the campaign trail, she has told crowds her pregnancy would not prevent her from rallying supporters to oust Prayut.

"I am an old face of Pheu Thai, but I think it will be cute to have a woman leader," said 67-year-old Bangkokian Chuthamas Thriwarin.

"People who think pregnant women or mothers can't be leaders are idiots," she said, gesticulating furiously.

Prayut has insisted the kingdom needs an experienced hand but he has struggled to win over voters, leaving him trailing both Pheu Thai and the reformist Move Forward Party.

For many, Paetongtarn does not represent a break with Pheu Thai's traditional policies even despite the talk of young versus old.

"It doesn't matter whether she has management or political experience or not, as long as she represents Pheu Thai party, she represents Thaksin," Chulalongkorn University political analyst Puangthong Pawakapan said.

Paetongtarn's aunt Yingluck, Thailand's first female premier, was dogged throughout her rule by perceptions that she was little more than her brother's stooge and was eventually ousted in 2014.

To avoid a repeat with Paetongtarn, Puangthong said this time the party might use her during the campaign but ultimately push another less controversial candidate as their main choice for leader -- most likely Srettha.

The youngest of Thaksin's three children and educated in Thailand and Britain, Paetongtarn managed the hotel branch of her family's real estate business before stepping into politics.

Her charisma and astute remarks on the campaign trail have taken by surprise many who had written her off as little more than a political adornment.

Supporter Porn Padklong, 70, who took part in the Red Shirt protests decades ago, said he backed Paetongtarn.

"She is the new generation, but she will have a direct line of communication."