July 4, 2011 (TSR) – The Opposition, Puea Thai (For Thais) party, has won an election landslide in Thailand as exit polls showed Yingluck Shinawatra, a political novice, won a clear majority of parliament’s 500 seats, paving the way for the 44-year-old business executive to become Thailand’s first woman prime minister.
Ms. Yingluck, younger sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, her billionaire brother, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in Dubai to avoid jail for graft charges that he says were politically motivated. The triumph is a rebuke of the traditional establishment of generals, old-money families and royal advisers in Bangkok who loathed Thaksin and backed Abhisit, an Oxford-trained economist who struggled to find a common touch.
Yingluck’s party won a projected 261 seats with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat Party taking 162, according to the Election Commission.
Thaksin remains a hugely divisive figure in Thailand. He was ousted in a 2006 military coup and fled the country in 2008 before a court sentenced him in his absence to two years in prison for corruption. His Thai Rak Thai party and its successor were also disbanded and many of their leaders banned from politics – yet he continued to command massive popular support, as the electoral landslide showed. Puea Thai campaigned on the promise: Thaksin thinks – Puea Thai does.
The country has become polarized. Thaksin is still adored by many rural poor and working class (new money) voters for his populist policies while in power, but is reviled by the ruling old elites who see him as corrupt, a threat to the revered monarchy and is sought to keep him from power with the support of the urban middle classes.
The split became even more entrenched when more than 90 people died as the military cracked down on Thaksin-supporting protesters in the centre of Bangkok last year. While redshirt leaders were jailed over the demonstrations, the government refused to acknowledge that the army had caused any deaths. The red shirts have rallied around Khun Yingluck and accuse Khun Abhisit of being a puppet of the army amid grievances that have simmered since a 2006 military coup overthrew her brother.
Pheu Thai would be allowed to govern and the military top brass would remain in place, with early reshuffles limited to middle ranks.
BRIEF ON YINGLUCK
Yingluck was born on June 21, 1967, into one of the most prominent ethnic Chinese families in northern Chiang Mai province, the youngest of nine siblings.
Until recently president of Thai real estate firm SC Asset Corp., she graduated in political science from Chiang Mai University and earned a master’s degree in public administration at Kentucky State University in the United States.
She returned to Thailand to work for one of Thaksin’s companies as a trainee in the early 1990s, going on to take various positions within her brother’s business empire.
She is a former president of the mobile telephone unit of Shin Corp., the telecoms giant founded by Thaksin that was at the centre of a scandal over the tax-free sale of the family’s shares in the group in 2006.
While her business credentials are well known, observers say she has given few concrete clues about what kind of leader she would be.
Yingluck’s bank account was among 86 bank accounts that the government accused of being used to provide funding for the Red Shirt protesters during their demonstrations in 2010. However, the government did not pursue any legal case against her. The Department for Special Investigation found that from 28 April 2009 to May 2010, 150 million baht was deposited into her account while 166 million baht was withdrawn. On 28 April 2010 alone, 144 million baht was withdrawn. The military’s April crackdown on the protestors killed nearly a hundred civilians and wounded thousands.
Yingluck received 0.68% of Shin Corp shares out of the 46.87% that Thaksin and his then wife held in 1999. The military junta-appointed Assets Examination Committee claimed that Yingluck made up false transactions and that “there were no real payments for each Ample Rich Co.,Ltd shares sold” and “the transactions were made at a cost basis of par value in order to avoid income taxes, and all the dividends paid out by Shin to those people were transferred to [her sister-in-law] Potjaman’s bank accounts”. However, the AEC did not pursue a case against her. Yingluck claimed that “her family has been as a victim of political persecution”.
CAMPAIGN TRAIL ANALYSIS
The photogenic 44-year old businesswoman has run a polished campaign: Groomed appearance , relaxed demeanour and carefully choreographed stage routines.
Yingluck is seen as a young attractive fresh face largely untainted by scandal. Accusations by her political foes that she lied in court to protect her brother appear to have had little impact on her popularity. While Ms Yingluck had no direct political experience, she threw herself into the campaign and spoke confidently of her business experience, working for her brother’s portfolio of businesses. She has said improving the country’s economy and bridging the gap between the country’s rich and poor will be priorities. The party campaigned with a clutch of populist policies including lower taxes and a higher national minimum wage.
Throughout the six-week campaign, the two sides presented similar populist campaigns of subsidies for the poor, improved healthcare benefits and infrastructure investment including high-speed rail systems across the country — a style of policymaking known in Thailand as “Thaksinomics.”
In contrast to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, she has refrained from negative campaigning, instead keeping the focus on her Puea Thai Party’s policies and stressing the need for reconciliation after years of civil unrest.
The party campaigned under the slogan “Thaksin thinks, we act”, so they’ve made it very clear that Thaksin is the force behind this political party and Yingluck has won government largely on that basis. Analysts concur that she’s a proxy for her brother Thaksin Shinawatra to a very significant extent. She was chosen to lead the Pheu Thai party into this election precisely because she’s Thaksin’s sister.
If she decides to bring her brother back to Thailand and rehabilitate him politically in some way it’s going to have to be managed very carefully. She’s going to have to negotiate that very carefully with powerful people in the military and the palace and the judiciary, very gradually. What Yingluck has in her favour this time is a very strong, a very clear and very unambiguous electoral mandate and she will have the authority to be able to manage those yellow shirt protesters in a way that the government in 2008 couldn’t do.
Yingluck faces significant challenges, high inflation, and concerns over the basic cost of food. Her first task was the “roadmap to reconciliation” after years of unrest. She also cited the need to tackle improve international relations and curb corruption.
Her triumph’s main significance is the symbolism of what it means to have a woman and a non-politician take the prime ministership and a very significant change in the Thai political culture that’s occurred in Thailand through her brother, Thaksin. His style of politics has challenged those old established male-dominated elites and Yingluck’s rise to the premiership is a good symbol of that as well.
BUSINESS IS POLITICS AND POLITICS IS BUSINESS
Thailand’s economy is growing at a healthy rate of 4-5 per cent per 2011. The stock market overall was up more than 4.6 per cent. As business of politics and the politics of business has always been close in Thailand, it is not strange to have sideline dimensions to this election win.
SC Asset Corp stocks soared 16 % the last couple of months, since Yingluck entered the scene two months ago.
M-Link Asia Corporation, a mobile telephone handset supplier, rose 25.4 per cent despite the fact that Anusorn Amornchat, Yingluck’s de facto husband, resigned last week as the company’s executive committee chiarman and president.
Even AIS, the mobile telecommunications company founded by Thaksin and run by Yingluck until he sold it to Singapore’s Temasek, rose 6.25 per cent.
The Thai baht also appreciated against the US dollar, trading late afternoon at 30.47-49 to one dollar compared with 30.80-82 at the close on Thursday, traders said. Friday was a bank holiday.
THAI GOVERNMENT MAY BE STABLE FOR A YEAR
Puea Thai’s victory could usher in much-needed political stability after six years of sporadic unrest that featured the occupation of Bangkok’s two airports, a blockade of parliament, an assassination attempt and protests last year that descended into chaotic clashes with the army.
Circa 47.3 million eligible voters across Thailand choose their 500 members of the House of Representatives, or the lower house – 375 members from single-seat constituencies and another 125 from party-list category.
The election is Thailand’s 26th since it became a democracy in 1932, ending seven centuries of absolute monarchy. Since then, it has seen 18 military coups or coup attempts. Yingluck will be the county’s sixth leader in five years.
Yingluck had agreed a coalition deal with four minor parties that would give the new government 299 seats of 500 seats in the Parliament. Coalition members include Chart Thai Pattana, Chart Pattana Puea Pandin, Palung Chon and Mahachon.