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AseanAffairs Magazine May - June 2011





The election of Yingluck Shinawatra through a peaceful and democratic election may usher in a new period of political stability in Thailand.

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Led by Yingluck Shinawatra, the Pheu Thai party won an absolute majority in the Thai parliament through a democratic and peaceful election-the first one in Thailand since 2006.

Election results

   On Sunday, July 3, 66 percent of Thai voters turned out to give the Pheu Thai party headed by Yingluck Shinawatra, youngest sister of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the majority of seats in the new Thai Parliament.

The following day, July 4, Pheu Thai formed a coalition with four minority parties to increase its seat total to 299 out of a total of 500 parliamentary seats or 60 percent control of parliament. This is only the second time in Thai history that an election has resulted in a single party carrying an absolute majority in the parliament.

Equally important, foreign observers assessing the election gave thumbs up to the election process as being free and fair .

The main loser in the election was the Bhum Jai Thai (BJT) party that was decimated. The BJT is based in northern Thailand, the same stronghold as Pheu Thai. In 2008 BJT abandoned its relationship with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to form an alliance with the Democrat party. That alliance lost this election and BJT appears to have won only 34 seats, about half of what it was projected to win. BJT’s political influence has certainly been reduced.

It is important to note that although the election has been categorized as a landslide, the Democrats prevailed in their traditional stronghold Bangkok, taking 23 seats to the Pheu Thai’s 10. The split between urban and rural voters and between the North and the Democratic South also continued in this election.

The election results are a vindication for Mr. Thaksin, who was deposed in a military coup on 19 September 2006. In 2008, Mr. Thaksin fled Thailand before receiving a prison sentence from Thailand’s Supreme Court of two years for corruption and other related charges. Since then, he has acquired citizenship in Montenegro and established a home base in Dubai.

An acknowledged master of public relations, Thaksin, who made his fortune in Thailand’s telecom industry, has continued his presence in Thailand during his absence through video and audio feeds and interviews with international and Thai media in Dubai.

What makes Thaksin a unique case, as opposed to other deposed Thai prime ministers, is his ability to penetrate Thailand’s air space through the use of advanced satellite communications, circumventing attempts to make him fade into the dust bin of history.

Thailand is no stranger to coups and exiled leaders. According to Nicholas Farrelly of the New Mandala web site, there have been 11 “successful” coups and nine “unsuccessful” coups in 20th century Thailand. The 2006 coup in Thailand that deposed Thaksin surprised many Thais as the last previous coup had occurred in 1992 and most Thais felt that coups were a matter of history.

Following the current election, however, the military has accepted the Pheu Thai victory stating that it would not intervene or prevent Yingluck Shinawatra from forming a new government.

This gives the country hope as during the last six years there has been an occupation of Bangkok’s two airports, a blockade of parliament, an assassination attempt and street protests resulting in deaths.

How did she get here?

   Yingluck Shinawatra, 44, was handpicked by her brother to contest the recent election but up to that time she had pursued a career as a low-profile business executive and mother.

Thaksin said that he selected her as she was a relative and therefore, someone he could trust.

However, when her name first surfaced, she expressed reluctance “I’m not ready to give up my life, and particularly my son’s happiness, in exchange for the top spot on the party list,” she said earlier this year. Her husband, Anusorn Amornchat, is president of mobile handset distributor M-Link Asia Corp.

Ms. Yingluck was born in Chiang Mai, Thailand, received a bachelor’s degree from Chiang Mai University and a master’s degree from Kentucky State University in 1991, both in public administration.

Over 20 years, she became managing director of property developer SC Asset and president of Advanced Info Service, Thailand’s largest mobile phone operator. SC Asset still remains part of her brother’s business empire.

Before she was selected, the Pheu Thai party trailed the Democrats in opinion polls as it lacked a recognizable leader and a sense of direction. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolved parliament on May 10, and Thaksin nominated his sister. As she made more appearances on the campaign trail, she appeared to gain confidence in meeting with villagers especially in the north, where she could bring her northern accent into play.

However, several Thai media have observed how tightly managed and scripted she has been during the campaign. This is not surprising given her lack of political experience and her initial reluctance to take up the role of the nominee in the first place.

Her photogenic qualities and her appeal to women voters were key vote-attracting qualities, while her opponent, Mr. Abhisit, has often been criticized for being ill at ease among many voter segments.

The Pheu Thai campaign seemed to gain momentum whatever the critics said as Yingluck struck a responsive chord during her personal appearances................



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