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Yesterday, Friday, August 5, Yingluck Shinawatra, became Thailand’s first female prime minister.
Before her selection as the #1 candidate on the Pheu Thai party list by her elder brother, deposed fugitive former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, she was a minor figure on the Thai scene and had resisted earlier attempts by her brother to bring her into politics.
She waltzed through the two-month election campaign using her good looks in what might be called a “charm offensive” and ducking the issues. The platform developed by Mr. Thaksin for Pheu Thai included a pledge of a 300 baht (US$10) daily minimum wage, solving Bangkok’s perennial flood problems, building a new financial capital city, constructing 10 new electric light rail lines with a fixed fee of Bt20 (US.70¢) per ride, a 15,000 baht (US$ 500) starting wage for university graduates, boosting rice prices, building five high-speed rail lines and supplying tablet computers to elementary students.
Many economists think that these so-called “populist” policies could be too much for Thailand’s economy and might even undermine Thailand’s position as the world’s leading rice exporter by making rice too costly. Vietnam is at Thailand’s heels and is quite capable of displacing Thai rice on the world market.
However, Ms. Yingluck faces a host of political issues that would tax the most skillful political figure, which she is not, at least at this point in her career. The top issues are reconciliation of the opposite poles of Thai society that brought about last year’s divisive and deadly street protests and the army’s intervention to maintain order that cost 91 lives on both sides.
Underlying reconciliation is the issue of amnesty and that involves not only red shirt leaders who are scheduled to go on trial in mid-2012 but Mr. Thaksin, himself. He resides comfortably in Dubai to avoid serving a two-year jail sentence for graft and corruption. Returning to Thailand would also trigger the resumption of several other pending legal cases against him.
The red shirts have joined forces with Pheu Thai and several have been elected to parliament.
Their strident demands could easily tear Pheu Thai apart.
Thailand has successfully gone through the election phase and a new cabinet is now being formed.
Ms. Yingluck can no longer duck the issues and even with a 60 percent majority in the lower house, the real test of her leadership now begins with her brother’s presence always lingering in the background.
Top News from Southeast Asia
August 6 , 2011
These were the most important stories published by Asean Affairs during the week of July 30-August 5.