Paving the political path for Thaksin's sister

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 April, 2011, 12:00am


Is Thailand ready for its first female prime minister? From his base in Dubai, former-premier-turned-fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra reportedly said that he wanted to nominate his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, 43, as the new leader of the fragmented opposition Peua Thai party in the upcoming election, due in late June.

The crisis of leadership in the Peua Thai party has compelled Thaksin to come out of his cave and reorganise the election strategy. Thaksin had been silent during the past few months; some of his enemies even thought that he had quit politics for good. His recent interview with the international media helped resurrect hope among his supporters in Thailand that he would continue to fight for their interests.

Still on the run from Thai law, Thaksin is in the process of convincing Yingluck, his younger sister, to front the Peua Thai on his behalf. This is also a part of re-strengthening the Shinawatra legacy in politics. More importantly, if the Peua Thai won the election and Yingluck became prime minister, Thaksin would then be able to return to Thailand to fight the many court cases, presumably more fairly.

Yingluck, who has an American MBA, is a successful businesswoman. She is now executive president of the Thai property firm SC Asset Corporation, an offshoot of Thaksin's once-huge business empire.

A mother of four, Yingluck has no political experience. Indeed, she is said to be reluctant to take up the party leadership. She herself said earlier this year that the time 'has not yet come for me to do this'. Her lack of political experience, and thus a direct connection with voters in Thaksin's stronghold, may worry some Peua Thai members.

But most of them agree that she could be a 'political magnet' because of her closeness to Thaksin, perceived by his supporters as a saviour and martyr.

If Yingluck accepts this challenge, she could pose a real threat to the pro-elite ruling Democrat Party. Not only does Yingluck represent a breath of fresh air, being relatively young and photogenic, she also symbolises a new generation in the anti-establishment force. Thaksin will turn 62 this year. He is damaged goods and has too many enemies. Yingluck is thus a potential successor in the Shinawatra political dynasty.

In fact, Thaksin is known to have owed much of his past political success to a number of women in his life; one of them is his divorced wife, Khunying Potjaman. Yingluck is a leading female figure with a reputation of being 'down to earth and capable in her own right', according to a Peua Thai member. Such qualities will surely be set against leaders in the old power camp.

More significantly, Yingluck's nomination could shift Thailand's traditional political landscape. Thai politics has long been a male-dominated scene. The desperate need for a credible leadership within the opposition could make Yingluck's journey to premiership, amid forceful male contenders, more possible.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies