Yingluck Shinawatra is poised to become Thailand’s first female prime minister, after winning a landslide victory in this summer’s elections. After last year’s dramatic political riots in Thailand, which left 90 people dead and the country with no clear solution to the deep divides between the two major parties, Ms. Shinawatra’s victory seemed to herald a mandate for reconciliation. She is the sister of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a military coup in 2006. Some are worried that Ms. Shinawatra will simply serve as a proxy for her brother, but others say that she will bring unity to a country in turmoil.
“There is a lot more hard work to do in the future for the well-being of our sisters and brothers, the people of Thailand,” Ms. Shinawatra told CNN. “There are many things to accomplish to make reconciliation possible, paving the way for a solid foundation for a flourishing nation.”
Last year, Thailand erupted into violence when protesters took over parts of Bangkok for several months in an attempt to force the government to resign. When the government attempted to clear the streets, riots began. Many of the demonstrators were supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, who is now living in Dubai to avoid charges of corruption.
Ms. Shinawatra has never before held elected office, and many analysts seem to think that her popularity is borrowed from her brother. But Thai women also seem ecstatic to have a female prime minister.
“I’ve seen too many men failing to run the country,” said Areerak Saelim, a woman who runs a sunglass shop. ”Maybe this time, things will be different. What women are — and men aren’t — is meticulous. I’m pretty sure she can do the job based on her age and successful career.”
This is despite the fact that others distrust her close connections with her brother. Ms. Shinawatra has promised to return to the populism of her brother’s reign, to focus on closing the gap between rich and poor, and bringing reconciliation without vengeance for the coup which toppled her brother. This, however, may be a tall order. During his time in office, Mr. Shinawatra was, according to NPR, loudly criticized for “a sharp authoritarian streak and stood accused of corruption, cronyism and abuse of power.”
Of course, it’s also disturbing to think that a woman might only have been elected because of family ties, and not on her own merits. That’s much less of a victory for gender equity. But, more practically, there’s also the fear that both parties made big promises they can’t keep. ”We’ll be broke in one year,” predicted Supong Limtanakool of Bangkok University’s Center for Strategic Studies.
It’s unquestionably inspirational to see the first woman stepping into the highest position of power in Thailand. But Ms. Shinawatra will ultimately have to prove that she is not her brother’s proxy, and that she can begin to heal the deep political and socioeconomic rifts that plague the country. What Thailand needs right now is a leader who is capable of practical reconciliation. The question is whether Ms. Shinawatra will be the woman for the job.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.