Sunday, July 3, 2011

Yingluck Shinawatra is set to become Thailand's first female prime minister


Yingluck Shinawatra is set to become
Thailand's first female prime minister
Update :
AlJazeera, Wayne Hay: 04 Jul 2011

   The sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former prime minister, has led Thailand's main opposition party to a landslide election victory.

Sunday's vote paves the way for 44-year-old Yingluck Shinawatra, who has never held office, to become this Southeast Asian kingdom's first female Prime Minister.

With almost all the votes counted, her Puea Thai party had won a clear majority with 263 seats out of 500, well ahead of the ruling Democrats with 161, according to the Election Commission, which estimated turnout at 74 per cent.

"It is now clear from the election results so far that the Puea Thai party has won the election, and the Democrat party concedes defeat. I would like to congratulate the Puea Thai party for the right to form a government," Abhisit Vejjajiva, the incumbent prime minister, said on television.

Yingluck said she was working on building a coalition.
"I don't want to say it's victory for me and the Puea Thai party but people are giving me a chance and I will work to my best ability for the people," she told reporters at her party headquarters in Bangkok, the capital.

"While we are waiting for the official results, the Puea Thai executive has already contacted and discussed with Chart Thai Pattana to work together," she said, referring to negotiations for a coalition with a smaller party.

Speaking from Dubai, Thaksin told a Thai broadcaster that he had called to congratulate his sister and cautioned her of "tough work ahead".

Sunday's vote was the first major electoral test for the Thai government since mass opposition rallies in Bangkok last year, which sparked a military crackdown that left at least 91 people dead.

Stunning result

Reporting from Bangkok, Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay said many Thais were taken aback by the scale of Pheu Thai's projected win. "Everyone is quite surprised, stunned - perhaps by these results," he said.

Thaksin, who has lived in exile in Dubai since being ousted by the military on charges of corruption in a 2006 coup, remains hugely popular among the country's poor. The elite, however, are wary of him.

Al Jazeera's Aela Callan said the reaction in the Red Shirt stronghold of Khon Kaen, northern Thailand, had been muted. The Red Shirts, a protest movement which is particularly popular in rural Thailand, is loyal to her brother and has supported Yingluck's campaign.  

"Far from jubilant scenes, what we've seen here is some cautious optimism," Callan reported, noting that all four of the movement's previous victories at the polls had been cut short, either by the military or through judicial means.

Pithaya Pookaman, who heads Pheu Thai's foreign relations, said a Pheu Thai landslide meant anti-democracy forces would have to "think very hard" before provoking a repeat of previous years' violence and election nullifications.

"We learned from our lessons. If the people give us a landslide victory; if the people give us an overwhelming victory, I'm sure the people who are trying to derail the election, who are trying to prevent democracy from working in Thailand, will have to think very hard," he said.

"I think the world opinion is upon them. The people have given their answer, their decision, so I think it's a matter of taking that into consideration and not derailing the democratic process."

Wayne Hay, our correspondent in Bangkok, said negotiations to ensure a smooth transition were taking place behind the scenes, and that many Thais are hoping the election might lead to political stability.

"But, as we know in Thai politics, these deals can fall over very quickly," he added.

Some Thais, especially females, see Yingluck's victory as a big step for women in a country where they have struggled for equal representation in government.

"I've always wanted to have the first lady prime minister," Areerak Saelim, 42-year-old owner of a sunglass shop in a Bangkok market.

"I've seen too many men failing to run the country. Maybe this time, things will be different. What women are - and men aren't - is meticulous. I'm pretty sure she can do the job based on her age and successful career."

But others questioned whether Yingluck was, in fact, her own woman.

"It's obvious who she represents ," Puttasa Karnsakulton, a 37-year-old clothing shop owner, referring to her brother.

Supong Limtanakool, the chairman of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Bangkok University, told Al Jazeera that, while Yingluck's victory was not surprising, the substantial margin by which she won was.

Supong said the incumbent's loss could, in part, be attributed to a cooking oil shortage and high food prices.

His government's apparent indifference to the plight of Thais during recent natural disasters had also helped to cost him support.

"[Populations affected by flooding] have never seen any government representative going to visit them or to see what they can do [for] the people," Supong explained.

BBC News
3 July 2011

A successful businesswoman, and now with a political career, Yingluck Shinawatra is following in the footsteps of her more famous brother, Thailand's former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

She was the number one party list candidate for the main opposition Pheu Thai ("for Thais") political party, and is set to become the country's first woman prime minister with victory in the 3 July general election.

Yet Ms Yingluck, 43, has never before run for office nor held a government post, and critics have been quick to point out her inexperience.

Her primary political qualification seems to be the fact she is the youngest sister of Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup.

Despite living in self-imposed exile in Dubai, he still effectively controls the Pheu Thai party.

Ms Yingluck is there to marshal the Thaksin faithful - the many millions who still want their former leader back - and to woo the undecided with a new look attached to an old name.

She mobilised that base through democratic elections as opposed to the prolonged - sometimes bloody - street protests that Thailand has witnessed in recent years.

That could give Mr Thaksin a basis on which to bargain a future role in the country, despite a two-year jail sentence for a conflict of interest conviction.


Ms Yingluck is the ninth child in a highly political family.
She has two degrees in politics - undergraduate from the northern city of Chiang Mai, her family's powerbase, and masters from Kentucky State University in the US.

Yingluck Shinawatra has appeared more natural with ordinary Thais than her opponents. Until now, she has pursued a corporate career, formerly as managing director of AIS, the telecommunications firm her brother founded, and managing director of SC Asset Company, a family firm involved in property.

In her bid to become the first female prime minister, Ms Yingluck said she planned to use her attributes as a woman to promote national reconciliation and asked for the chance to prove herself. 
"I am ready to fight according to the rules and I ask for the opportunity to prove myself. I ask for your trust as you used to trust my brother," she told a party meeting in Bangkok.

"I will utilise my femininity to work fully for our country." Ms Yingluck's much-lauded feminine charms indeed electrified the campaign trail.

When she smiled and bent at the knees to exchange a wai - the prayer-like gesture of respect - with a wizened grandmother or weathered farmer, people seemed to warm to her. Her young son, Pipe, has also appeared with her at election rallies.


  • Born 21 June 1967
  • Youngest of nine children; elder brother is former PM Thaksin Shinawatra
  • Graduate in political science and business administration, master's degree, Kentucky State University
  • Married to businessman Anusorn Amornchat; has one son
  • Ex-president of Advanced Info Service (AIS), the country's largest mobile phone operator, before it was sold to Singapore's Temasek Holdings
  • Currently president, SC Asset, a family business; she also manages the finances for Thaksin's Pheu Thai Party
  • First woman to run for the country's highest political office

Behind the scenes, as commentators have been at pains to point out, she is being advised by a formidable array of veteran politicians, including some of the traditional powerhouses of Thai politics.

They decided on a campaign strategy that showed off their candidate's charm.

She is very careful to stay on message. While she may not know all the right answers yet, she "is smart enough not to be trapped into a compromising answer", notes the Bangkok Pundit website.

The other key technique has been for Ms Yingluck to say only pleasant things about her opponents - a tactic that throws off her male competitors.

"It is hard to portray her as the face of evil when that face may not seem so bad to the so-called silent majority who may like her reconciliatory tone," comments the Bangkok Pundit.

Looking for original ideas or a new policy platform from Ms Yingluck is not necessary - she is the product of a well-oiled political machine, which has been winning landslide election victories in different guises since 2001.

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