Here comes Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra!

Southasia - - The last stop -

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.

By Anees Jil­lani

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