Yingluck Shinawatra

It won't be easy for Yingluck

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 July, 2011, 12:00am


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'You Decide' was the compelling message some Thai newspapers had on their front pages yesterday.

Unfortunately, nothing in Thailand's fragile democracy was ever going to be quite that simple.

The comfortable victory last night for the youngest sister of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, his self-described 'clone', will mark a key test for the country after five years of electoral crisis and the worst violence in decades.

Yingluck Shinawatra, a 44-year-old business executive with no political experience, appeared self-assured as she turned up to vote at a booth outside Bangkok at 8am.

'I'm confident ... we'll be able to form a government. And I'm confident in my policies, too,' the Puea Thai leader said.

After a late entry to what became a bright and breezy campaign, the hard work is about to begin for Yingluck, who is set to become Thailand's first female prime minister. She faces potential threats from the military brass who overthrew her elder brother in September 2006. And then there are potential legal challenges from the vast Bangkok establishment they represent.

The dislike and fear Thaksin invokes in those circles should not be underestimated, given their fears over what they claim are his anti-monarchist goals and the authoritarian streak he showed in office.

Legal challenges have been repeatedly used since 2006 to disband parties close to the Thaksin machine and bring the opposition Democrat Party power unelected.

Already Yingluck is facing claims that she committed perjury during an asset concealment case that saw her billionaire brother found guilty last year.

Even if, as reports suggest, any deal is struck with a reluctant Bangkok establishment to smooth Puea Thai's passage into office, she may have to also pacify the more militant wings of the pro-Thaksin 'red shirts' - all the while dealing with flare-ups from pro-royalist 'yellow shirts'.

Then she must start implementing her many promises - including Thaksin's possible return.

While Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva promised, during his campaign, to defend Thailand from a 'poisonous' Thaksin return, Yingluck preferred to stick to the policies that made her brother so popular. As well as ongoing dirt-cheap health care and credit schemes for farmers, she aims to lift the minimum wage while providing free tablet computers for all new schoolchildren.

She has also vowed to revive a drug crackdown that saw more than 2,000 people gunned down in extrajudicial killings under her brother's watch. This time she promises due regard for human rights.

Given the challenges ahead, particularly from the establishment, the fear and uncertainty was palpable at the ballot boxes yesterday.

'I'm not sure the election will really fix the troubles in Thailand, whoever wins,' said military housewife Kanokwan Malinom, 39, as she voted in a large army district near Bangkok's Grand Palace.

'It is still important to vote to try to get the right people into parliament ... but you always wonder whether you can trust the electoral system and your vote will be allowed to count.'

Maintaining the establishment system was foremost in the minds of the Bangkok society matrons who turned up at a booth in the swank suburbs off Sukhumvit Road to watch Abhisit cast his ballot.

'Thaksin was a crook and bully who thought he was bigger than Thailand,' said Chutima Pongpanit, 67. 'We have to vote to protect this nation and keep Thailand clean.'