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Military accepts youngest Shinawatra win in Thai elections
Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Dubai resident and former fugitive PM Thaksin Shinawatra, is now Thailand's first female PM. The 44-year-old is expected to stabilise a country riddled with unrest.
July 4, 2011 10:27 by p.deleon
Thailand’s powerful military accepted on Monday a stunning election victory by the party of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, adding to a new sense of stability in a country plagued by sporadic unrest since his ouster in a coup five years ago.
A day after the victory by the Puea Thai Party headed by Thaksin’s youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the military agreed not to intervene or stop her from forming a government, according to the outgoing defence minister.
“I can assure that the military has no desire to stray out of its assigned roles,” said General Prawit Wongsuwan, a former army chief close to military leaders involved in the 2006 coup that removed Thaksin.
“The army accepts the election results,” he told Reuters.
Puea Thai (For Thais) secured an absolute majority with 264 seats in the 500-seat parliament, a decisive win that makes it hard for Thaksin’s opponents to stop Yingluck from becoming Thailand’s first woman prime minister and potentially igniting protests by her red-shirted supporters.
“Chances of blocking Puea Thai in the near term are severely limited,” said Roberto Herrera-Lim, Southeast Asian analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. “The instability everyone has been worried about now looks less likely. The military will have to be pragmatic now.”
The vote is a rebuke of the royalist establishment in Bangkok that backed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and suggests broad support for policies championed by Thaksin, a populist hero of the poor elected prime minister twice, in 2001 and 2005.
The mandate clears the way for Yingluck to roll out a long list of Thaksin-style programmes that could influence the direction of Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy – from subway extensions to big wage increases and various giveaways aimed at boosting spending power, especially in rural areas.
“Winning by a big margin would ease the problem of the military intervening and make it easier for them to form the government and implement all their policies,” said Kongkiat Opaswongkarn, chief executive of broker Asia Plus Securities.
Criticism on overly ambitious plans
Late on Sunday, Yingluck brushed aside concerns about the cost of the promises made during her election campaign, from tablet computers for schoolchildren to a big increase in the minimum wage, which critics say will damage the economy.
“That’s not true, we know what to do. We’ll reduce costs for people and we know how to generate the income that we’ll give back to them,” she told Reuters.
Newspapers concentrated on the photogenic 44-year-old businesswoman on Monday, momentarily leaving Thaksin to one side, although he was all over the television screens on Sunday, offering his congratulations from Dubai.
The stridently anti-Thaksin Nation newspaper accepted the result but pulled no punches on the challenge ahead.
“The election is over but the hatred remains,” it headlined its leader column. “It’s time for ordinary Thais to take reconciliation into their own hands.”
Abhisit on Monday said he had decided to step down as party leader after conceding defeat quickly on Sunday.
Just over a year ago, the military put down a protest movement by Thaksin’s red shirt supporters in Bangkok and 91 people lost their lives. Nearly 2,000 were injured.
The red shirts accuse the rich, the establishment and army top brass of breaking laws with impunity — grievances that have simmered since the 2006 coup — and have clamoured for the return of Thaksin who lives in Dubai to avoid jail for graft charges that he says were politically motivated.
The years of unrest have featured the occupation of Bangkok’s two airports, a blockade of parliament, an assassination attempt and last year’s protests.
Thaksin said he would “wait for the right moment” to come home. “If my return is going to cause problems, then I will not do it yet. I should be a solution, not a problem,” he told reporters in Dubai. (By Alan Raybould and Pracha Hariraksapitak; Additional reporting by Vithoon Amorn, Panarat thepgumpanat, Jason Szep and Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie)