Thaksin sister to run for Thai PM

Opposition party picks relative of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra to challenge PM Abhist Vejjajiva in July elections.

    Yingluck, centre, is viewed as a political novice but analysts say she could boost the party's electoral chances [Reuters]

    Thailand's biggest opposition party has chosen the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former prime minister, as its prime ministerial candidate in July's general elections.

    Yingluck Shinawatra, 43, is expected to boost the electoral chances of the Puea Thai party and return power to allies of Thaksin, who won two election landslides before his overthrow in a 2006 military coup, analysts said.

    The election is expected to be a close contest between Abhist Vejjajiva, the incumbent prime minister from the ruling Democrat Party, and Yingluck, who is said to have limited political experience.

    The nomination of Yingluck comes days after Abhist announced the dissolution of parliament to pave the way for the vote.

    But analysts and commentators are split on whether the decision to run with Yingluck will benefit Puea Thai, or backfire.

    Andrew Walker, an expert on Thai politics at the Australia National University, said she could prove to be instrumental in uniting a party in disarray by attracting the rural poor who were wooed by Thaksin's populist policies.

    "It's a bold move, but given the power of the Shinawatra brand in Thai politics, it's a pretty good move," he said.

    "It's a risk, but Puea Thai see that it's outweighed by Thaksin's galvanising appeal and the affection that exists among the electorate for him and his policies. What the Democrats and their allies most fear is an electoral runoff with Thaksin."

    'Proxy for Thaksin'

    Yingluck, who was educated in the United States and keeps a low profile, has had no official role in Thai politics.

    If elected, she would become Thailand's first female prime minister, but would be regarded as a proxy for Thaksin.

    Thailand has been gripped by political unrest since Thaksin's ouster by a military coup.

    The former premier faced accusations of corruption and disrespect for the monarchy. He fled Thailand to escape a prison sentence and is barred from running for office, but remains highly popular among voters in the countryside.

    Echoing Thaksin's most recent comments, Yingluck said she would pursue reconciliation in the deeply divided country and would not seek payback for the 2006 coup, which sent Thailand into a spiral of instability.

    "All the parties have to turn to each other and know that Puea Thai is not here for revenge but to solve [Thailand's] problems," she said in a speech on Monday to Puea Thai members, who voted overwhelmingly in her favour.

    "People still think of my brother and his policies of the past and many still have had mercy for our family until today," she said, adding that seeking Thaksin's return from exile a free man was "not the priority".

    Thaksin has a history of using family members in politics. While prime minister in 2003, he appointed his cousin Chaisit Shinawatra to serve in the influential post of army commander.

    In 2007, he manoeuvred to have his brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat become prime minister. Somchai was forced out of office by a court ruling and was succeeded by Abhisit, whose critics charge he came to power with the connivance of the military.

    Last year, Thaksin's supporters, the "Red Shirts", held two months of anti-government protests in the capital that deteriorated into violence, leaving at least 91 people dead and 1,400 wounded. They demanded that Abhisit call early elections.  

    SOURCE: Agencies


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