Profile: Yingluck Shinawatra

A successful businesswoman follows her brother Thaksin’s footsteps by running for prime minister of Thailand.

Thailand elections Yingluck Shinawatra
Yingluck Shinawatra used her femininity as a campaign strategy, becoming the first woman to be elected PM [Reuters]

Yingluck Shinawatra has never before run for office nor held a government post, but she is set to become Thailand’s first female prime minister.

Yingluck has led Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party to a landslide win, with a thumping majority of up to 313 seats out of 500 against just 152 for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s ruling Democrats.

The photogenic 44-year-old businesswoman has run a polished campaign, defying sceptics who said the initial excitement over her nomination as the main opposition candidate for prime minister would soon fizzle out.

“There’s no question she’s getting a bounce from excitement over the idea of Thailand having a woman prime minister, the novelty of a fairly young, attractive candidate, and because the Democrats are running such a lacklustre campaign,” Michael Montesano, a Thailand expert, said during the campaign.

Until the 2011 election campaign, Yingluck has pursued a corporate career, formerly as managing director of Advanced Info Service (AIS), the country’s largest mobile phone operator, and managing director of SC Asset Company, a family-run real-estate firm.

She holds two degrees in politics: bachelors from Chiang Mai in north Thailand, and masters from Kentucky State University in the US.

Political blood

On paper her experience in politics may seem insufficient but her primary political qualification seems to be her blood relations as the ninth child in a highly political family.

Yingluck is the number one party list candidate and she is there to marshal the Thaksin faithful – the many millions who still want their former leader back – and to woo the undecided with a new look attached to an old name.

Yingluck Shinawatra on Sunday, as votes were counted [Reuters]

She is the youngest sister of Thaksin, the former prime minister who was the first to be elected for a second term but was ousted in a 2006 military coup.  He lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, but still remains a major force in Thai politics as the effective controller of the Pheu Thai (“for Thais”) Party.

His sister’s win could give Thaksin a basis on which to bargain a future role in the country, despite a two-year jail sentence for a conflict of interest conviction.

But Thaksin denies claims of his plans to regain the country’s leadership through his sister, to whom he has referred as “his clone”.

Yingluck is mobilising Thaksin’s base through democratic elections as opposed to the prolonged – sometimes bloody street protests that Thailand has witnessed in recent years.

“I am ready to fight according to the rules and I ask for the opportunity to prove myself. I ask for your trust as you used to trust my brother,” she told a party meeting in Bangkok, the Thai capital.

Yingluck told the AFP news agency while campaigning that she and her brother were similar in their approach.

“We are alike in the sense that I have learned from him in business and I understand his vision, how he solves problems and the way he built everything from the beginning,” she said.

Thaksin is still adored by many rural and working class voters for his populist policies while in power, but is reviled by the ruling elite who see him as corrupt and a threat to the revered monarchy.

Feminine appeal

During the election campaign, Yingluck Shinawatra is viewed as having more in common with ordinary Thais than her opponents, like Abhisit Vejjajiva.

In her bid to become Thailand’s first female prime minister, Yingluck asked for the chance to prove herself, saying that she planned to use her attributes as a woman.

She often smiles and bends at the knees to exchange a “wai” – the prayer-like gesture of respect – which seems to help people warm to her.

She is very careful to stay on message and to say only pleasant things about her opponents – a tactic that throws off her male competitors.

Commentators have pointed out that she is being advised by veteran politicians, which include some of the traditional power-horses of Thai politics.

Her campaign strategy seems to be centred on using her charm and staying away from any possible risks of straying into difficult or controversial territories.

Yingluck’s feminine charms appeared to work well, with Pheu Thai and Yingluck were ahead in the early opinion polls.

Yingluck is married to Anusorn Amornchat, also in business, and has one son, Pipe, who often appears at election rallies with her.

While her business credentials are well known, observers say she has given few concrete clues about what kind of leader she would be.

“She is at the moment sticking by what Thaksin has asked her to do in a very detailed way,” said a Bangkok-based Western diplomat. “I don’t think we have yet seen what she is capable of.” 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies