• Mon
  • Nov 24, 2014
  • Updated: 1:22am

Yingluck faces calm before the storm

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 July, 2011, 12:00am
 

Given the tensions plaguing Thailand, a conventional political honeymoon was never going to be on the cards for prime minister-elect Yingluck Shinawatra - but at least she is being cut some slack.

Thailand's outgoing defence minister yesterday insisted there could be no thought of a fresh military coup, while her defeated predecessor Abhisit Vejjajiva matched his concession by quitting the leadership of the Democrat Party to become an opposition MP.

Abhisit's six years at the helm were defined by a bitterly fought campaign against Yingluck's fugitive brother, ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The unusual mood of calm was matched by Yingluck's moves to accept smaller parties into a ruling coalition despite the outright victory of her Puea Thai party on Sunday.

Yingluck spoke of the need for a brighter future, rather than addressing the controversial question of when and how Thaksin would return from Dubai, where he has exiled himself to avoid a corruption conviction.

'The first urgent issue is to achieve reconciliation,' Yingluck said.

Thaksin played down both his imminent return and his political ambitions as he also spoke of reconciliation. 'I've been with the party too long, and I really want to retire. Actually, I announced when I was in office that I planned to retire when I was 60,' Thaksin said in Dubai.

'I'm 62. It's long overdue for me.'

How Yingluck handles the return and amnesty of her billionaire brother and his other cronies looms as potentially the most divisive issue.

The one-time telecoms tycoon still has US$1.5 billion of his wealth seized by Thailand's courts.

Already the pro-royalist 'yellow shirt' camp is warning of fresh protests if Thaksin is given amnesty, while pro-Thaksin 'red shirts' are also vowing to continue street action.

Thai political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak said inexperienced Yingluck would be given considerable room to manoeuvre early on. 'Everyone is watching to see whether Yingluck forges her own political identity and approaches, or simply becomes a puppet for Thaksin,' Thitinan, a scholar at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said.

'If she becomes the puppet, then that is when the trouble will start and we will see trouble again ... my instinct is that things will be orderly for three to six months and Yingluck will try to establish herself.'

But the Thaksin influence would prove to be too much and the cycle would begin all over again, he said.

Thaksin's opponents across Bangkok's royalist, military and old money establishment fear not just his return, but a repeat of the authoritarian strength of his regime.

Opponents warned that Thaksin, who claimed soon after taking office in 2001 that he hoped to forge a 20-year premiership, effectively muzzled the press and curb the independence of the Senate. He was ousted in a military coup in 2006 amid charges of corruption and malfeasance, and there were fears he was undermining Thailand's revered king.

Yingluck will operate under a tighter constitution that would make such sweeping control more difficult. She goes into office facing far greater scrutiny from opponents than her brother faced in 2001.

Although Abhisit finds himself beholden to compromises forced by his establishment backers after taking power unelected, Thitinan said he hoped Yingluck could learn the lesson and push Thaksin and Puea Thai towards a more enlightened future.

Even though she lacks political experience, Yingluck has run various arms of Thaksin's business empire. Businessmen describe her as 'tough and shrewd'.

Brian Dougherty, a veteran Thai analyst with the Hong Kong security firm Hill and Associates, said he hoped Thaksin had learnt from his past excesses.

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