Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck crushes opponents on the streets and in parliament

Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck crushes opponents on the streets and in parliament– vancouversun.com, December 2, 2012

[This is an astonishing interpretation of Thai events from the international press. The claim here is that Yingluck is really in charge of the government and has even begun to defy Thaksin–and that Yingluck may decide, for the good of the country, not to provide amnesty for Thaksin after all.

The likely explanation for this is a Western desire to interpret events in small countries as part of a larger trend. When Yingluck was elected, many news outlets like CNN rushed to point to Yingluck as proof of the liberalizing trend of powerful women taking their role in politics.

While jumping to this conclusion might be expected right after the election, subsequent events means there is no excuse for the international press to misinterpret Yingluck’s role in the government.

As a person with obviously little political influence, plucked from obscurity and made PM after only 49 days, and who does not attend important parliamentary meetings nor run her own cabinet meetings, there is little reason to believe she is involved in the running of government.

Indeed, her charm and isolation from normal politics is at the root of her local popularity. Unsullied by parliamentary wrangling and sent on trips to the provinces, her charm and personal appeal is a refreshing change from the old political mafia bosses who cared little about the common touch and who make their deals in back rooms.]

Thailand’s deposed and exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra may have outsmarted himself when he eased his younger sister, Yingluck, into power as his surrogate.

After a year playing avatar for her brother, who has been semi-nomadic in Asia and the Middle East since his ouster in a 2006 military coup, Yingluck is emerging as a confident and deft leader in her own right.

She is increasingly unwilling to blindly follow the orders issued from Thaksin’s hotel room of the moment.

In October, Yingluck defied Thaksin’s directives over a cabinet shuffle, rejected a political ally he wanted made a minister and kept on two economics ministers her brother had publicly criticized.

A poll taken at the time found nearly 53 per cent of respondents would vote for the governing Puea Thai Party (PTP) led by Yingluck, up from the 48 per cent support they won in last year’s election.

About 63 per cent of those polled believe Yingluck has become more self-confident and independent in office, an approval rating assisted by a vibrant economic performance.

Thailand’s unemployment rate is the lowest in the world at 0.56 per cent and the growth in the gross domestic product is expected to be six per cent this year.

So Thaksin may well find that if his sister’s government presses ahead with four pieces of reconciliation and amnesty legislation as well as an amendment to the constitution that would allow him to come home with his abuse of power conviction removed, there are strings attached.

Thaksin may have to accept that in the years he has spent abroad trying to avoid the two-year prison sentence for the abuse of power conviction, and even though he has been able to use his multi-billion dollar fortune to manipulate events at home, the cavalcade has passed him by.

Yingluck’s independence, the relative calm she has brought to the stormy seas of Thai politics since the PTP came to power in July last year, and the gathering regard for her among Thai voters were reinforced last week.

She and three of her ministers comfortably survived a no-confidence motion in parliament on Wednesday last week, underlining her personal mandate as prime minister.

Her victory in parliament, when the no-confidence motion was defeated by 308 votes to 159, came a few days after an equally convincing win on the streets against demonstrators from the same factions that prompted the military to remove her brother in September 2006.

The Patik Siam (Protect Siam) movement led by retired army general Boonlert Kaewpra-sit first pledged to bring out one million people onto the streets of Bangkok on Nov. 24 to demand the military stage a coup against the government and replace it with a council of elders.

As the day approached Patik Siam lowered its estimate of the expected number of protesters to 100,000.

In the event only about 10,000 people turned up and they were met by a large and well-prepared deployment of police.

The protest fizzled and Gen. Boonlert resigned on the spot, disbanding Patik Siam as he left.

The firm government response was very different to that of then-prime minister Thaksin in 2006 to mounting protests by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), forefather of Patik Siam. He ignored the street opposition made up of mostly of elitists, who disliked his populist appeal to poor, rural voters, and of royalists who believed Thaksin has republican instincts that are an insult to Thailand’s constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

These protests by PAD “yellow shirts” gathered momentum until leading figures in the military, the King’s Privy Council and the Palace felt compelled to launch the coup.

However, the aim of keeping Thaksin, even in exile, out of Thai politics has proved futile.

On each occasion when there has been a reasonably free and fair election since the coup, parties sponsored by, funded by and loyal to Thaksin, have won.

The pro-Palace Democrat Party came to power in 2008 until its defeat last year, but only because the compliant Constitutional Court banned Thaksin’s party and two of its coalition partners.

Prime Minister Yingluck’s victories on the streets and against the no-confidence motion have again clarified the political landscape.

Her government’s own timetable calls for it to bring the reconciliation bills and the constitutional amendment to parliament within a month.

Time, however, has not diminished opposition to these moves.

They are viewed by the government’s opponents and many swing voters simply as means to paint over what they see as the corruption of the Thaksin administration and to give him an amnesty that will let him back into the country.

Yingluck must now judge the likely affects on social order of Thaksin’s return, and whether sibling love outweighs the fate of her administration.

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