x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Thaksin sister Yingluck Shinawatra poised for power after political career of six weeks

Yingluck has earned rock-star status, capturing the hearts of the millions of working class Thais loyal to her brother, seen as the only Thai prime minister who sought to boost the livelihoods of the millions of rural poor.

BANGKOK // With charisma and promises of populist giveaways, Yingluck Shinawatra was a powerful weapon for Thailand's opposition party and is set to become the country's first woman prime minister just six weeks into her political career.

Ms Yingluck's Puea Thai party looked set for a landslide win in Sunday's election, marking a stunning turnaround in fortunes for a party stigmatised for its links to her exiled billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a twice elected premier despised by Thailand's elite.

Ms Yingluck, a 44-year-old businesswoman, has earned rock-star status, capturing the hearts of the millions of working class Thais loyal to her brother, a tycoon seen as the only Thai prime minister who sought to boost the livelihoods of the millions of rural poor beyond Bangkok's bright lights.

For hours after exit polls indicated a Puea Thai win, her supporters were rapturous, screaming and chanting her name in anticipation of a Shinawatra political dynasty taking shape.

"Prime Minister Yingluck", chanted hundreds of people crammed into the party's Bangkok headquarters. "Landslide, landslide," others shouted in English.

Ms Yingluck has promised to revive Mr Thaksin's famous populist policies and raise living standards, vowing to pursue reconciliation to end Thailand's six-year political crisis without seeking vengeance for her brother's overthrow in a 2006 coup.

"I'll do my best and will not disappoint you," she told supporters after receiving a call of congratulations from her brother.

Her late entry on to the scene came with a political marketing blitz, mass rallies and carefully choreographed speeches. Posters of a smiling, suited, Ms Yingluck were erected everywhere from bustling Bangkok intersections to rustic villages.

Mr Thaksin remains a divisive figure, loathed as much as he is loved, and has drawn sharp criticism for calling Ms Yingluck his "clone".

But Ms Yingluck's supporters do not seem to care and believe she will bring something of her own to Thailand, if she becomes Thailand's first female prime minister since it became a democratic country 79 years ago.

Thanida Permsombat, a computer technician from Bangkok, said: "She's beautiful, she's clever, she's kind, She has the ability to make everything better again. Now, Thailand can have real change."

Supporters thronged the corridors of Puea Thai headquarters and scores of photographers and cameraman battled to catch a glimpse of Ms Yingluck's first news conference since Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded defeat.

She refused to comment on when Mr Thaksin might return from exile. Puea Thai had no amnesty policy, she said, and it would be up to independent panels to decide, with no special arrangements for one man.

There is little doubt Ms Yingluck was the catalyst for Puea Thai's victory, but a rocky road lies ahead for as long as Mr Thaksin casts his shadow over Thai politics.

Roberto Herrero-Lim, an analyst with Eurasia Group, said: "Yingluck was the big factor in this win. She didn't make any mistakes, she stuck to the script.

"She has been an impressive stand-in for Thaksin, but what happens next is the big issue. What are Yingluck's real plans regarding her brother?"

As for Mr Thaksin, he said in Dubai he had no immediate plans to return.

"If my return is going to cause problems, then I will not do it yet. I should be a solution, not a problem."