Thailand’s new parliament is officially open today, faced with the daunting challenge of bringing stability to the kingdom after five years of political turmoil.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will preside over the opening ceremony in the capital Bangkok in the late afternoon, the palace has said, allowing the 500-seat lower house chamber to set to work later in the week.
Within days, MPs are expected to vote in the country’s first female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra of the Puea Thai party, which on July 3 won a crushing electoral victory to take power from the pro-establishment Democrats.
Yingluck will take to the helm almost five years after her brother, the deeply divisive Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted as premier in a military coup. He now lives abroad to escape a jail term for corruption.
Thai academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun said Yingluck, who is widely seen as a proxy for her brother, had shown surprising charisma since her electoral success and could become “a very capable prime minister”.
But he said the challenges facing the premier-in-waiting, a political novice, are formidable.
“I think the honeymoon period of Yingluck will be very short. She has so many obstacles in front of her,” said Pavin, of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
Thailand’s political landscape became increasingly polarized following the 2006 coup, with other Thaksin allies removed from power by the courts and paralysing rallies by both pro- and anti-Thaksin camps.
They culminated in mass demonstrations by his “Red Shirt” followers in Bangkok last April and May, which ended with a military assault and more than 90 people dead. Thaksin is wanted on terrorism charges linked to the unrest.
Economic concerns have also been raised over the potential impact of Yingluck’s vote-grabbing promises, such as a hike in the minimum wage that the Bank of Thailand has warned could stoke inflation.
Last week, the Election Commission endorsed dozens of winning candidates from the national polls, bringing the total approved to 496 – passing the 95 percent threshold needed by law for parliament to convene.
Yingluck has formed a six-party coalition that will hold about three-fifths of the seats in the lower chamber, where MPs’ first task will be to elect a house speaker.