Thailand has voted for change: electing its first woman prime minister and putting its faith in the democratic process to bring an end to the political turmoil that has ravaged the country for the past five years. The country needs wise and strong leadership — what are the chances that it will get it?
Thailand’s new leader, Yingluck Shinawatra is a political novice. She is also proof that dynastic democracies are flourishing in Asia even as dynastic dictatorships are floundering in the Middle East.
She was chosen to head Puea Thai Party because she is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, the controversial former Prime Minister and business magnate now living in exile in Dubai. During the election campaign Puea Thai party proudly flaunted its connections to Thaksin, who described Yingluck as his “clone.” Let’s hope for Thailand’s sake as well as Yingluck’s that he is not right.
Thaksin is a divisive figure in Thailand, loved by the poor and loathed by the establishment. As prime minister, he endeared himself to poor Thai farmers with his populist social policies but antagonised the urban middle classes with his autocratic style, corruption and disregard for human rights and the rule of law.
So far Yingluck is showing cautious wisdom. Notwithstanding an absolute majority in Parliament, Puea Thai party has entered into a coalition with several other parties to broaden its political base. It has also put on the back-burner Thaksin’s return to Thailand as a gesture to reassure the military.
She is facing big challenges. To meet them Yingluck must prove that she is not a puppet on Thaksin’s string but a leader in her own right. Only time will tell if Asia’s newest female political leader is just an offspring of dynastic politics, or a political star.