Yingluck Shinawatra

Yingluck's true political tests are still to come

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2011, 12:00am


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Yingluck Shinawatra, leader of the Puea Thai party, has made history. She is expected to become the first female prime minister of Thailand after her party won the election with a slim majority of 265 out of the total 500 parliamentary seats.

As a local newspaper put it, a 'red tide' has 'swept Thailand'. Yingluck, the sister of former premier-turned-fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra, looks set to lead a five-party coalition with 299 seats. Thus, a solid coalition government is in the making.

But Yingluck's path in politics will not be smooth. One of the most controversial issues has been the possible amnesty of her brother. The opponents of Puea Thai have already condemned any such move as part of Yingluck fighting to vindicate her own brother. But Yingluck has denied it, saying the party 'has no policy to work for just one man'.

Yingluck must realise that bringing Thaksin home would unnecessarily irritate the anti-Thaksin factions, both in the military and in the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy, and that it would allow them to challenge the legitimacy of her government. This explained why Thaksin, in the aftermath of the election, suddenly downplayed his eagerness to go back to Thailand. Some perceived Thaksin's plea to return home as just a part of the election campaign.

An equally arduous task is how to build a working relationship between the new government and the military. It is evident that top leaders in the Thai army have adopted an anti-Thaksin attitude. The current army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has made known his disapproval of the Puea Thai party. He appeared on national television just weeks before the polls urging Thais not to vote for the party.

When Thaksin was in power, he failed to build friendly ties with the army. In fact, he did the opposite. Thaksin blatantly interfered in military affairs, thus partly forcing the army to 'take back its pride' through a coup. Yingluck, often accused of being Thaksin's puppet, has been open about her view of the military, saying: 'I would like to create a dialogue with the army. We can work together.'

Her softer stance has so far been well received by General Prayuth. After the election, the army chief released a statement endorsing the victory of the Puea Thai party, thus rejecting the rumours that the army might attempt to overturn the result.

But Yingluck's honeymoon period will not last. Ultimately, what is at stake is the power position of the old elite. Yingluck's emergence is a threat to their power interests. How long the military can endure Yingluck will determine her government's political life.

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