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Thailand to have first woman Prime Minister

Yingluck is widely considered the proxy of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who has called her his clone.

News18test sharma |

Updated:July 4, 2011, 9:29 AM IST
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Thailand to have first woman Prime Minister
Yingluck is widely considered the proxy of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who has called her his clone.

Bangkok: The woman poised to become Thailand's first female Prime Minister acknowledged huge challenges in reconciling her divided country, after an election landslide seen as a rebuke of the military-backed establishment that ousted her brother in a 2006 coup.

Preliminary results from Sunday's poll showed 44-year-old Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai party winning the majority it needs to form the next government. If confirmed, the large mandate will likely boost Thailand's stability in the short term and reduce the chance of intervention by the coup-prone military five years after it ousted Yingluck's fugitive brother-in-exile, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The victory comes one year after the government crushed protests by Thaksin supporters with a bloody crackdown that culminated some of the worst violence in 20 years and ended with the capital ablaze in a wave of arson attacks allegedly carried out by fleeing protesters.

In a late night victory speech in Bangkok on Sunday, Yingluck said, "I don't like to say that Pheu Thai has won, but I'd rather say the people have given the Pheu Thai party and myself a chance to serve them."

"There's still a lot of work to be done in the future, in terms of the well-being of the people and for the country's unity and reconciliation," Yingluck said.

The photogenic Yingluck is widely considered the proxy of her brother, who has called her 'my clone'. Thaksin, who was ousted as Prime Minister after being accused of corruption and showing disrespect to the nation's much-revered king, was barred from politics in 2007 and convicted on graft charges the next year. He lives in exile in Dubai.

His overthrow touched off a schism between the country's haves and long-silent have-nots that continues to this day. The struggle pits the marginalized rural poor who hailed Thaksin's populism against an elite establishment bent on defending the status quo that sees Thaksin as a corrupt autocrat.

Last year's violent demonstrations in Bangkok by 'Red Shirt' protesters - most of them Thaksin backers - and the subsequent crackdown marked the boiling over of those divisions.

On Sunday, though, they played out at the ballot box in a vote that will decide the shape of Thailand's fragile democracy.

From exile 3,000 miles away in the desert emirate of Dubai, Thaksin hailed the outcome. "People are tired of a standstill," he said in an interview broadcast on Thai television. "They want to see change in a peaceful manner."

With 98 per cent of the vote counted, preliminary results from the Election Commission showed Thaksin's Pheu Thai party far ahead with 264 of 500 parliament seats, well over the majority needed to form a government. The Democrat party of army-backed incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had 160 seats.

Though he has been widely criticized for abuse of power and decried for a streak of authoritarian rule that has profoundly polarized Thailand, Thaksin has nevertheless "become a symbol of democracy for his supporters," said Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, a political science professor at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

Thaksin and his proxies have won the country's last four elections. By contrast, the Democrat party - backed by big business, the military and circles around the royal palace - has not won a popular vote since 1992.

Thailand's democratic process has been repeatedly thwarted over the years, with 18 successful or attempted military coups since the 1930s.

Thaksin's overthrow was followed by controversial court rulings which removed two of the pro-Thaksin premiers who came after - one of whom won a 2007 vote intended to restore democracy in the nation of 66 million people.

Those events took place amid anti-Thaksin 'Yellow Shirt' protests. Demonstrators overran the Prime Minister's office and shut down both of Bangkok's international airports in 2008, stranding hundreds of thousands of travelers.

When Abhisit built a ruling coalition with the parties that remained in Parliament after the court rulings and what critics called the coerced defections of some lawmakers to his camp, pro-Thaksin 'Red Shirts', composed largely of the rural poor, took to the streets in protest.

They overran a regional summit in 2009 that saw heads of state evacuated by helicopter off a hotel rooftop.

Last year, Red Shirt protesters poured into Bangkok by the tens of thousands from the countryside, paralyzing the city's wealthiest district for two months. By the time they were crushed by an army crackdown, the capital's glittering skyline was in flames. Some 90 people were killed and around 1,800 were wounded, mostly protesters.

Last week, army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha reiterated his vow to stay neutral in the vote, dismissing rumors the military would stage another coup.

"The future depends on whether the traditional elite will be willing to accept the voice of the people," Pavin Chachavalpongpun of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, told The Associated Press.

In Dubai, Thaksin smiled when asked whether the results would be respected and said he was optimistic justice would prevail. "In Thailand, things are changing," he said. "I don't think a coup d'etat will happen again soon."

Abhisit and his allies have accused Yingluck of plotting Thaksin's return to Thailand through a proposed amnesty for all political crimes committed since 2006. But speaking to reporters Sunday, Thaksin insisted, "I'm not in a hurry to go back."

"I want to see reconciliation happen first. If there is reconciliation, then I will be part of the solution. If I'm part of the problem, then I won't be there. That is OK."

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