Ex­iled Thai leader’s sis­ter runs for prime min­is­ter

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY RICHARD S. EHRLICH

BANGKOK | The sis­ter of Thai­land’s dis­graced for­mer prime min­is­ter has set her sights on be­com­ing its first fe­male prime min­is­ter — and then ini­ti­at­ing tri­bunals for the mil­i­tar y’s deadly crack­down on prodemoc­racy demon­stra­tors last year.

Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra, who has never held elected of­fice, has been lead­ing in polls ahead of the July 3 na­tion­wide elec­tion, and has based her cam­paign on the lin­ger­ing grass-roots pop­u­lar­ity of her self-ex­iled el­der brother — for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra, who was over­thrown in a blood­less coup five years ago.

“If you love my brother, will you give his youngest sis­ter a chance?” she rou­tinely asks the crowds at her cam­paign events across the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to the Associated Press.

The an­swer is al­ways a re­sound­ing “Yes.”

Mrs. Yingluck, who cel­e­brated her 44th birth­day on June 21, is a wealthy top ex­ec­u­tive in her fam­ily’s telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and prop­erty busi­nesses.

Her brother Thaksin is a bil­lion­aire telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions mogul dodg­ing a two-year prison sen­tence for pub­lic corruption. He has called Mrs. Yingluck his “clone,” giv­ing rise to spec­u­la­tion that her vic­tory in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions would en­able his re­turn to Thai­land.

What’s more, Thai­land’s U.S.trained mil­i­tary, which has staged 18 suc­cess­ful or at­tempted coups since the 1930s, is con­cerned that a par­lia­men­tary vic­tory by Mrs. Yingluck would en­able her to in­ves­ti­gate the army’s 2006 coup that top­pled her brother.

Prime Min­is­ter Ab­hisit Ve­j­ja­jiva, who as­sumed of­fice in 2008, held a cam­paign rally June 23 at the Bangkok street in­ter­sec­tion that thou­sands of anti-gov­ern­ment Red Shirts had bar­ri­caded in spring 2010. His gov­ern­ment’s quash­ing of the up­ris­ing ended with more than 90 dead and 1,500 wounded.

The prime min­is­ter said the rally would al­low his Demo­crat Party to tell “the truth” about the two-month protests that par­a­lyzed the heart of this South­east Asian city, the AP re­ported.

“There has been one-sided crit­i­cism against the gov­ern­ment and that [has] some­what swayed the peo­ple,” Mr. Ab­hisit told re­porters June 22.

“I’m con­fi­dent peo­ple will open up for the speech and they would like to know [what hap­pened last year] — it’s some­thing that’s al­ways on their minds.”

The tri­bunals that Mrs. Yingluck has pro­posed could blame Mr. Ab­hisit and the mil­i­tary for us­ing snipers, ar­mored per­son­nel car­ri­ers and other spe­cial­ized weapons against the Red Shirts.

“If there is ev­i­dence, then there must also be fair tri­als,” Thaksin said when asked about the gov­ern­ment’s crack­down dur­ing a Der Spiegel mag­a­zine in­ter­view pub­lished this month.

Im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion is the real game be­hind the cam­paign speeches on both sides.

Af­ter over­throw­ing Thaksin in 2006, the mil­i­tary cloaked it­self in im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion, and now it wants to keep its gen­er­als out of court.

The gen­er­als and Mr. Ab­hisit granted them­selves ad­di­tional im­mu­nity when they clamped much of Thai­land un­der a “state of emer­gency” dur­ing and af­ter the Red Shirts’ in­sur­rec­tion last year.

Thaksin also wants im­mu­nity, or “amnesty,” be­fore he re­turns to Thai­land.

Mrs. Yingluck has said that if she be­comes prime min­is­ter, she will grant a blan­ket “amnesty” to sev­eral peo­ple, in­clud­ing her brother, and she is ex­pected to re­turn the $1.2 bil­lion that the gov­ern­ment seized from Thaksin’s ac­counts.

“Dur­ing the past five years, it is ob­vi­ous that the coup was un­able to solve any prob­lems,” Mrs. Yingluck told the Bangkok Post. “It only in­flicted ex­treme pain on my fam­ily.”

Thai an­a­lysts warn that a blan­ket amnesty could pro­voke a vi­o­lent back­lash by anti-Thaksin gen­er­als, politi­cians and their sup­port­ers.

Dur­ing a re­cent tele­vised de­bate hosted by the BBC, Mr. Ab- hisit ac­cused Thaksin and his can­di­dates of want­ing to “sub­vert the rule of law” by grant­ing him­self amnesty.

While the Reds tend to sup­port Thaksin’s re­turn, they also seek equal jus­tice un­der the law, a re­dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth and tax-funded as­sis­tance, es­pe­cially for poor agri­cul­tural and in­dus­trial work­ers.

They some­times cast their strug­gle as a class war be­tween de­serv­ing Red “prai” — a feu­dal de­scrip­tion of lower-class cit­i­zens — and a self­ish “am­mart,” or rul­ing elite, which in­cludes Mr. Ab­hisit, the mil­i­tary, roy­al­ists and many rich politi­cians and busi­ness­men.

The July 3 elec­tion is for 500 seats in par­lia­ment’s lower house, con­tested by sev­eral par­ties that want to form a coali­tion gov­ern­ment. Some par­ties in Mr. Ab­hisit’s coali­tion have of­fered to switch their loy­alty to Mrs. Yingluck if she wins.

All sides in the elec­tion of­fer sim­i­lar po­lices, in­clud­ing low­cost health care, fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for the poor, in­vest­ment in big in­frastr uc­ture projects, sub­si­dized com­mod­ity prices, im­prove­ment in ed­u­ca­tion and other tax-funded plans.

Re­gard­less of who wins the elec­tion, no change is ex­pected in for­eign pol­icy, in­vest­ment or re­la­tions for Thai­land — a Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity, South­east Asian nation that is a non-NATO ally of the United States.

Still, many Thais won­der whether the mil­i­tary will tol­er­ate a Yingluck vic­tory or will stage an­other coup if Mr. Ab­hisit is de­feated af­ter only 30 months in of­fice.

“Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion takes time to achieve,” said re­tired Maj. Gen. Sanan Ka­chorn­prasart, who helps lead a mid­sized po­lit­i­cal party in the rul­ing coali­tion.

“But if we don’t do any­thing at all, a civil war may erupt af­ter the elec­tion. And this time around, the body count may be higher,” he re­cently told the Bangkok Post.

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Her brother’s keeper: Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra, sis­ter of for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra, kicks off ever y cam­paign stop by ask­ing crowds if they miss him. Her brother was over­thrown by the mil­i­tar y.

Sup­port­ers of Thai prime min­is­ter can­di­date Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra cheer her ar­rival dur­ing a rally in Bangkok.

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