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Pattaya Daily News

07 August 2011 :: 10:08:23 am 56997

Tough road ahead for divided Thailand’s new PM

BANGKOK, August 7, 2011 - Thailand's first female premier has already clinched a place in the history books, but she could struggle to survive a full term in office and end her country's cycle of instability, analysts say.
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Yingluck Shinawatra, a political novice who is set to take office this week, swept to an election victory last month with the support of her fugitive brother Thaksin, who is loathed by the elite and was toppled in a 2006 coup.

Experts say her own political endurance and prospects of achieving unity after years of turmoil are now threatened by those family ties.

“Yingluck is a leader of a political force that is utterly unacceptable to many powerful people in Thailand,” said analyst Michael Montesano of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

“Sooner or later the attempt to bring her government down through a wide variety of measures will become obvious.”

Serving a full four-year term in Thailand is the exception rather than the rule, with Thaksin the only elected premier ever to have done so.

His removal by the army in 2006 has heralded five years of political crises both in the Thai parliament and on the streets, where his elite-backed foes and his mainly working-class supporters have held crippling rival protests.

Any attempt to oust Yingluck — who is expected to receive royal endorsement on Monday before naming her cabinet — would risk a similar upswell of anger among Thaksin’s many followers.

The situation escalated last year when dozens were killed in clashes between the army and “Red Shirt” protesters who largely support Thaksin for his populist policies and have helped to propel his sister to the premiership.

Her staying power will rest on appeasing both the Reds, who are calling for justice over last year’s violence, and the opposing elites around the palace and military who hated her brother’s authoritarian style of leadership.

Since he was ousted, Thaksin has fled Thailand to avoid a jail term for corruption and his other allies have been brought down by court rulings. Analysts believe another “judicial coup” could thwart Yingluck’s rule.

“That is the broad challenge for her, how to avoid that entire fiasco this time,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

“That requires dealing with Thaksin’s adversaries effectively. She has to reach out to them. She has to appoint the right people that reach out to them.”

The military may be reluctant to stage another outright coup after the tumultuous fallout from 2006, but that does not rule out their interference.

They have staged 18 actual or attempted coups since 1932 and could find ways to meddle indirectly with Yingluck’s premiership.

“The army, in co-operation with other groups, other institutions, can derail her administration,” said Thitinan.

Since her election win, in an apparent acknowledgement of the need to tread lightly around these powerful players, 44-year-old Yingluck has moved to erase the notion that she is her brother’s “clone”.

After a career spent in his business empire, Yingluck has repeatedly denied numerous Thai media reports that Thaksin, widely seen as the mastermind of her Puea Thai party, is now hand-picking her new cabinet line-up.

She has also played down the suggestion, floated by her party, of an amnesty for politicians that could pave the way for Thaksin to return a free man — and risk the ire of her family’s opponents.

“She is too smart to press for an early amnesty,” said Montesano. “I think there is clear awareness in Puea Thai that they want to move slowly on this thing.”

A Thaksin comeback could bolster the rival “Yellow Shirt” movement, which claims allegiance to the throne but has weakened since 2008 when it occupied Bangkok’s airports and helped bring down the last pro-Thaksin government.

Thailand’s widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej is seen as a unifying figure in a country that has been frequently riven by political violence.

But the 83-year-old monarch, who has reigned for more than six decades, has been in hospital since September 2009 and Thailand’s post-succession landscape is shrouded in uncertainty.

While Yingluck faces a daunting task, she is strengthened by her party’s decisive election win and enjoys the backing of a six-party coalition, holding three-fifths of the seats in the lower house of parliament.

The jury is still out on whether she can step out of her brother’s sizeable shadow and reconcile the troubled nation.

“Until we see her strut her stuff it is difficult to judge, but everything we have seen of her so far suggests she has quite a lot of substance,” said analyst and author Chris Baker.

Reporter : AFP   Photo : AFP   Category : Politics News

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