Thailand elects first female premier. New hope for political middle?
Thailand is set to place a woman with little political experience in charge in a transition of power that could soothe six years of political turmoil.
A landslide victory in Sunday’s election has put Yingluck Shinawatra on track to become Thailand’s first female prime minister as head of a four-party coalition. The result is a rebuke to the conservative ruling party and its military backers. The election represents a chance for the government to return to a political middle ground, after nearly six years of political turmoil.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Yingluck, a businesswoman who has never held public office, said Tuesday she would wait for the official results July 12 before allocating seats in her cabinet. Negotiations have begun between Pheu Thai Party (PTP), which won 265 out of 500 seats in parliament, and three smaller parties. The ruling Democrat Party will control only 159 seats after failing to make inroads into Thailand’s rural north and northeast.
Sunday’s election was the first since a 2007 vote, which was won by a forerunner to PTP that was later dissolved for election fraud, paving the way for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to take power. Mr. Abhisit struggled to assert his legitimacy in the face of hostile antigovernment “red shirt” demonstrations, which left more than 90 dead in Bangkok last year. On Sunday, he quickly conceded defeat and congratulated Yingluck, easing tensions over a handover of power, and resigned Monday as party leader.
Korbsak Sabhavasu, a Democrat campaign strategist, says the PTP has won a clear victory. “The election is really clear, which is good for Thailand. And we respect that,” he says.
Yingluck’s mandate to lead this divided country, however, may face challenges from opponents of her brother and mentor, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Some have begun to threaten legal action against her for alleged perjury during court hearings in 2008 over Mr. Thaksin’s wealth. She has denied any wrongdoing.
But much of that anger from a loud minority is directed at Thaksin, a businessman turned populist politician who was deposed in a 2006 coup after months of protests over his strongman-style rule and government corruption. Thaksin, who lives in self-exile in Dubai and was later convicted in absentia of abusing his power, has said he hopes to return home under a proposed political amnesty. Thaksin’s critics in the ruling elite oppose any effort to rehabilitate him and overturn his criminal conviction.
“If they start the amnesty, they will face a challenge from the [anti-Thaksin] yellow shirts,” says Kan Yuenyong, director of Siam Intelligence Unit, a research center in Bangkok.
Thailand’s powerful military has signaled its willingness to work with the new government. Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters Monday that “we are not going to intervene” in response to the question of a possible coup, a constant in Thailand’s political history.
“The Thaksinites are downplaying the rush to amnesty. If they’re smart, they’ll resist fiddling with the military budget and personnel for their own political survival,” says Michael Montesano, a research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.