Here comes Yingluck Shinawatra!
Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra is poised to become Thailand’s first woman prime minister after her Pheu Thai party scored a resounding victory in the July 3 national elections. She is the youngest sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed as prime minister in a September 2006 military coup and subsequently convicted for two years on grounds of corruption. His assets worth $2 billion were also confiscated.
Yingluck’s Pheu Thai won a majority of 265 seats out of 500 in the House of Representatives - 61 from the party-list category and 204 from the constituency category. The main opposition party, led by her main opponent, the incumbent prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva once regarded as Thailand’s brightest up-and-coming political star, educated at Oxford, called the Democrat Party, managed to win only 159 seats (44 party-list seats,115 constituency seats). Around 75% voted. Pheu Thai has now announced a coalition with smaller parties to bolster its majority and political legitimacy.
Yingluck is a novice in politics and many expect her brother, living in exile in Dubai, to be dictating her till his return. She is likely to announce amnesty for him soon after coming to power. A blanket amnesty to all the post 2006 political convicts would end up covering both the anti-Thaksin Yellow Shirt protesters who took over Bangkok’s airport in 2008, and pro-Thaksin Red Shirt protesters whose two-month demonstration in Bangkok in 2010 resulted in 92 deaths after the army crackdown.
The former PM Thaksin is one of the richest persons in Thailand but remains ironically a hero amongst the poor and down-trodden for the policies that he introduced while in power from 2001 to 2006. The rural and urban poor still recall with fond memories a number of his policies which reduced poverty by half in four years. He launched country’s first universal healthcare program, and a popular drug suppression campaign.
A military junta after taking over, calling itself the Council for National Security, dissolved Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party for electoral fraud, and banned its officials from politics for five years. Thaksin was abroad when the military took over. He returned to Thailand in February 2008, after the People’s Power Party, supported by him, won the post-coup elections. In October, the Supreme Court found him guilty of a conflict of interest and sentenced him to imprisonment in absentia while he was visiting China. His supporters then regrouped to form the Pheu Thai Party which has now won the elections.
Abhisit however took office at a time when the economic crisis was hitting the world, including Thailand. Despite giving relief to low-income earners and overseeing the strongest GDP growth in 15 years at 7.8% in 2010, the people blamed him for the poor economy.
Many attribute the election results to the events in the Middle East. Some say that the Thais were inspired by the people overthrowing decades old dictatorship. These developments gave them strength and this will also hopefully dissuade the Thai military from interfering in the politi- cal affairs which otherwise may play havoc with the stability of the Kingdom.
Apart from the political promises, many question the ability of 44-year-old mother of one to deliver on some of her electoral pledges which may have prompted some of the poor to vote for her. One promise, for instance, is unachievable from the start, namely that no Thai person will be poor by the end of her tenure. Other promises include free tablet computers for one million schoolchildren, and paying farmers $500 for each ton of rice which may further exacerbate food price inflation.
The key to the long-term success of Yingluck will be reconciliation. She may owe a great deal to her brother for the stunning victory, but the public, according to the major English daily, Bangkok Post, also responded to her. “For a broad swathe of the population, her sunny, youthful disposition offers a refreshing alternative for voters bored with the masculine godfather caricatures that have dominated national politics for decades,’’ said the paper in an editorial.
The people are tired of political conflicts. Yingluck as a new comer did not carry the “personal bruises and scars” of political life and people opted for it.
The choice is that of Yingluck and her party: they can devote all their time settling political scores with the old enemies of Thaksin who despite his popularity remains a major divisive force in the country’s polity, or sincerely attempt to help the poor to alleviate their poverty. The day when not a single Thai will be poor may appear unachievable but we all wish and hope that this is one promise that Yingluck will fulfill during her tenure as the first woman prime minister of Thailand.