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Asia

Yingluck Shinawatra: Thailand's first woman prime minister

Ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's youngest sibling might be a political novice, but she already has a smooth, well-choreographed election campaign and a thumping election victory to her credit.

Minister Yingluck Shinawatra talks to reporters at Parliament in Bangkok

Thailand's new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra talks to reporters at Parliament

A telegenic businesswoman who has lived her life under the shadow of her big brother, choosing Yingluck as the prime ministerial candidate of the Puea Thai party was a brilliant move on Thaksin's part, observers agree. Yingluck brought with her the so-called Thaksin plus-plus bonus, ensuring the women's votes as well the support of voters in business.

In her own right

Just as Thaksin has referred to his youngest sister as his "clone," Yingluck has described her brother as a father figure. The question now is, whether Yingluck will be able to develop the necessary charisma and authority a prime minister needs. The first sign that she might be setting accents of her own might be that she has not been flaunting her election victory. She is credited with having handled the post-election situation with considerable dexterity and finesse, putting together a six-party coalition which accounts for 300 of the legislature's 500 seats.

Yet Yingluck has had to put up a fight against allegations that all major decisions are being made by Thaksin from his exile in Dubai; Thaksin remains the de facto leader and chief financier of the Puea Thai party, as inside sources have revealed to the German press agency dpa.

Red shirts demonstrating in Bangkok for investigation of the clashes in April 2010

Red Shirts in Bangkok demanding an investigation of the clashes in April 2010

The great political divide

Following in Thaksin's footsteps, Yingluck has inherited his fans and his foes as well as Thailand's great political divide, color-coded between the Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts. It is this divide that she will have to bridge, not just for the sake of political peace but also for the sake of her own political survival, Thai political analysts believe. Yingluck herself is aware of how much is at stake. "The first urgent issue is how to achieve reconciliation," she said soon after her election victory.

The nationalist and anti-Thaksin Yellow Shirt movement is in a weakened state, and the army does not enjoy public support. This situation, combined with Yingluck's comfortable parliamentary majority, may give her breathing space. But the main pressure will come from Thaksin's own supporters, the Red Shirts, whose expectations have been raised by Yingluck's generous election promises, which are no doubt nowhere near the populist policies of her elder brother - the politics which ensured Thaksin a large following among rural and working class voters in his day.

One such pledge has been to raise the minimum wage to 300 baht (10 dollars) a day. Yingluck has also promised higher rice prices for rice farmers. But mainly the Red Shirts will expect justice regarding their rallies in April and May last year, which resulted in a military clampdown that claimed the lives of at least 90 people.

Author: Arun Chowdhury (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Sarah Berning

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