08/05/2011, 00.00
THAILAND
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Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra becomes Thailand’s first female prime minister

Parliament enshrines her victory with 296 votes out of 500. King Bhumibol Adulaydej is expected to endorse her in the next few days. Source tells AsiaNews that she now will be closely followed to see whether she respects or not her election promises in favours of the poor. The military and the ‘red shirts’ could still change the balance of power.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thailand’s parliament confirmed Yingluck Shinawatra as the country’s prime minister. The sister of former Prime Minister and exiled billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra will be the first woman to be the country’s head of government, following the victory of her Pheu Thai party in the 3 July elections. The vote was held today in the lower house and was broadcast live on TV; 296 of the legislature's 500 members voted for Ms Yingluck. Three members voted against and 197 abstained. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is expected to endorse her in a ceremony within days.

Yingluck, a 44-year-old businesswoman without prior political experience, now faces the challenge of bringing stability to a country that has endured years of turmoil. Since 2006 when her brother Thaksin was ousted in a military coup and forced into exile (he was later sentenced to two years in prison and now lives in Dubai), Thailand has been on a political rollercoaster of governments and demonstrations. This reached a crescendo in 2010 when red-shirted protesters clashed with the military, resulting in the death of about a hundred people.

Yingluck Shinawatra won on a populist platform, in her brother’s style, so much so that she is seen as his clone. However, he dismissed such concerns, saying that she is not his puppet, despite the fact that the two are so close that she views her brother like a second father.

Her party’s programme includes raising the minimum wage, improving communication links with the north and increasing the efficiency of the health care system.

A source in Bangkok told AsiaNews that “people are satisfied” because those who represent the “middle and lower-middle classes” won and that the military and the country’s economic elites lost in a country where the gap between haves and have-nots, drug trafficking and unemployment have all increased whilst rural areas have remained backward.

“The greatest challenge is to see if she (Yingluck) can keep the promises she made during the election campaign,” a Thai politics expert said. “In this sense, some positive signs are visible like greater concern for the poorest classes and a desire to counter the country’s oligarchies”.
Capital and investments are needed to pursue development, “but this has its drawback because it opens the country to foreign powers like China,” who will “influence Thailand’s social and economic life.”

Despite what he may say, Thaksin will influence his sister’s choices one way or another. Many voters in fact cast their ballot in her favour mindful of the initiatives undertaken by the Thai billionaire, the source explained.

Thaksin “focused on the development of poor and rural areas with transfers to municipalities, even small ones, to fund local projects. Everybody can see the outcome of such concrete actions, like solar panels in homes to bring electrical power in villages.”

After the election, the military stated that they would respect the electorate’s verdict, saying that they would not oppose a government led by someone so close to Thaksin.

“It will be interesting to see how the royal family will deal with the new government and with the place the ‘red shirts’ will take. The ‘red shirts’ are not affiliated with the country’s ruling elites, and if Yingluck’s promises are not kept, we can expect demonstrators to take to the streets and squares again.”
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