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Friday, August 5,2011

Thailand's first female prime minister faces tough job

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

BANGKOK — Yingluck Shinawatra, 44, who was elected Thailand's first female prime minister by the House of Representatives Friday, needs all her womanly charm and talent for compromise in her job ahead.

Her post will become official when King Bhumibol Adulyadej, head of state, endorses it, probably at the weekend.

Yingluck is the youngest sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was prime minister between 2001 and 2006, and currently a fugitive living in Dubai to avoid a two-year jail sentence on an abuse-of-power conviction delivered in 2008.

Political observers say Thaksin made a brilliant move when he named his sister the prime ministerial candidate of the Pheu Thai party, which romped to victory at the July 3 polls, winning 265 of the 500 contested seats.

Thaksin described Yingluck as his "clone," a label his little sister will need to live down.

Over the past weeks, while the next cabinet was being formed behind closed doors, Yingluck again and again has had to deny rumors that all the main decisions were being made in Dubai.

"The people making the decisions are here in Thailand," Yingluck has said repeatedly.

That's unlikely, since Thaksin remains the de facto leader and main financier of the Pheu Thai, according to sources close to the party.

The party was in disarray months before the election with different factions fighting for the top slot. The choice of Yingluck put an end to the bickering and arguably won the election.

"When Thaksin decided to pick Yingluck the first thing Yingluck got was all the support for Thaksin, 100 percent of it," said Chaturon Chaisaeng, a former leader of the Thai Rak Thai party, Thaksin's first political party.

"But Yingluck was a plus, plus move," he said. "She brought Thaksin's supporters plus the women's votes, plus business people, so this was Thaksin plus-plus."

Yingluck had no political experience before she hit the campaign trail in June, but she is an experienced businesswoman, albeit in a family way.

She was the president of Advanced Info Service Pcl, or AIS, part of the Shinawatra telecommunications conglomerate before it was sold to Singapore's Temasek Holdings Ltd in 2006, and thereafter she headed the family-owned SC Asset Pcl, a property company.

Besides her business past, remarkably little is known about Yingluck the person.

She is married to Anusorn Amornchat, the managing director of M Link Asia Corp, another Shinawatra-owned firm. The couple have one son.

Yingluck graduated from Chiang Mai University with a degree in political science and went on to get a masters in the same subject from Kentucky University in the United States.

Despite her educational background, Yingluck showed little inclination to enter the political fray.

"When she was a student here there were no signs that she wanted to be a politician," said Nat Chaphanont, former dean of the political science department at Chiang Mai University.

"She was mature and a responsible student, but what people remember most about her is that she was tall and white-skinned," Nat told the Matichon newspaper in a recent interview.

A high-school friend, Mahawan Kawang, remembered Yingluck as "polite and well-behaved." Nice attributes in a Thai lady, but will they get her through the challenges ahead?

"She is pretty smart: she can pick things up very fast. She's quick to make decisions and she's pretty good at compromising," Chaturon said. "But she doesn't have much of a political background."

Yingluck faces both political and economic challenges ahead. On the economic front she will need to push through the populist policies her party promised in order to win the election.

Among the most controversial was a pledge to raise the minimum wage to 300 baht ($10) a day, which has already raised widespread opposition from the business sector.

On the political front she needs to mend a deep political divide, which has been partly caused by her big brother, who may have mass support from the poor but is disliked by the establishment — the military, royalists and old business families.

Thaksin is keen to return to Thailand, but needs an amnesty to do so. If his sister pushes one through, she will face opposition from the powers that be.

"I've always said that Yingluck is the one who can least help Thaksin get an amnesty," Chaturon said.


(c) 2011, Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany).

Visit dpa on the Internet at http://www.dpa.de/English.82.0.html

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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