Yingluck Shinawatra

Thai leader Yingluck Shinawatra was more than just her brother’s clone

Yingluck Shinawatra was derided by her foes, but she showed that she was much more than a mere clone of her brother Thaksin

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 May, 2014, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 May, 2014, 10:33pm

Ultimately undone by Thailand's courts, Yingluck Shinawatra laboured under claims she was a stooge for her exiled brother. Yet the kingdom's first female prime minister also displayed unexpected resilience during a turbulent stay in office.

Propelled to power in July 2011 by her family's electoral base in the poor north and northeast, Yingluck was pilloried by foes as a political lightweight armed with little more than a winning smile and a hotline to her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra - who once referred to her as his "clone".

History will give Yingluck great credit for her conduct since November

Thaksin, a divisive billionaire tycoon-turned premier, lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail in Thailand for corruption convictions. He was ousted by an army coup in 2006, which opened a seemingly unbridgeable chasm between his supporters and enemies.

Yingluck's premiership was scuttled yesterday by the Constitutional Court, which ruled that she abused her power in transferring a top security official shortly after she came to power.

Her supporters accuse the court of bias in frequently ruling against governments loyal to Thaksin. In 2008, the court forced two prime ministers linked to Thaksin from office.

Some legal experts had expected the court to remove her entire government. Instead, it ruled that nine ministers linked to the case should step down but others could remain, leaving Yingluck's ruling party in charge of a caretaker government.

"We were bracing ourselves for this verdict. Everything our enemies do is to cripple the democratic process," said Jatuporn Prompan, leader of pro-Shinawatra "red shirt" activists. "The court chose a middle way today."

A leader of the anti-government protesters, who are based in a central Bangkok park, welcomed the court's decision to remove Yingluck but said their campaign would go on.

"Of course, there is celebration here today but we still have not completed our goals, which are reforms and a delayed general election," said Samdin Lertbutr. "Even though she is gone, they are still the caretaker government."

Samdin said that a big rally planned for May 14 would go ahead.

For her first two years in office, the outlook seemed very different for Yingluck.

The photogenic former businesswoman charmed many of her critics and maintained the peace across Thailand's bitter political divide.

The 46-year-old reached out to the military and also appeased political opponents within the Bangkok-based establishment, which loathes Thaksin and wants to curb the Shinawatras' 13-year influence on Thai politics.

But the uneasy truce collapsed in November last year after a failed bid to pass an amnesty bill that would have enabled Thaksin's return.

The move outraged government opponents who flooded the streets for months of rallies, marked by violence that left at least 25 people dead and hundreds wounded.

Although Yingluck did not campaign publicly for the amnesty, the fiasco exposed her government as "a Shinawatra family affair", according to Dr Paul Chambers of the Institute of South East Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University.

Protesters demanded that Yingluck resign, occupying government buildings and forcing her to conduct cabinet meetings at secret locations. But the premier dug in. She gambled on new elections to bolster her battered administration, although those February polls were later annulled by the courts, trapping her in a caretaker role.

"History will give Yingluck great credit for her conduct since November," said Dr Michael Montesano at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

"She has scrupulously avoided the use of state violence ... maintained the dignity of her office and displayed humanity rather than arrogance while under great pressure."

Agence France-Presse, Reuters