Global Issues, In the Press, News, Women in Politics

Thailand – the struggle for power and the woman who hopes to unite a country

 Thailand has voted in their first woman prime minister.

Yingluck Shinawatra is to become  Thailand’s  PM . Her party won 264 seats in a 500 seat parliament.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva resigned as party leader and defence Minister.

Over the last few years Thailand had lost faith in democratic insitutions . Hopefully with the election of Yingluck there will be politcal stability.

There have been nine coups in Thailand since King Bhumibol ascended to the throne in 1946. 12 of Thailands 27 prime ministers since absolute monarchy ended in 1932,have been military leaders.

When we think of red shirts or yellow shirts we might think of a football team ,but in Thailand the different coloured shirts represent different political factions. The red shirts are supporters of the previous prime minister Thaksin . The yellow shirts are the supporters of the monarchy and the elite in Thailand.

Thaksin is the older brother of Yingluck .He was overthrown in a military coup in 2006 because of scandal over tax free sale of family shares. He now lives in Dubai to avoid a jail term.

Mr Thaksin’s over throw triggered a political crisis which saw violence break out between the Red shirts,his supporters and the military. More than 90 people were killed in unrest in Bankok.

Yingluck hopes to unite her country. Yingluck was born in 1967 president of Thai real estate firm SC Asset Corp ,graduated in political science at Chiang Mai Uni .She obtained a Masters in public admin at Kentucky Stat Uni,USA.

A former president of mobile unit of Shin Corp , a telecom’s giant founded by her brother Thaksin which was  at the  scandal that saw him ousted as PM.

Thaksin and his sister found support by Thailand’s people in areas north of Bankok where the people tend to be poorer and are the workers.  The elite are loyal to the monarchy and supported by the military.  Thus there are divisions in the country.

Will Yingluck , a newcomer on the political field be able to heal the wounds in Thailand. She won the campaign with her positive stance.

Yingluck has pledged to implement her party’s campaign policies ,which include doubling the minimum wage and distributing tablet computers to students.

Interesting article from Guardian

It’s unlikely Yingluck Shinawatra, set to be Thailand’s first female prime minister, would be in her job if it weren’t for her powerful brother Thaksin. But for women in Asian politics, family can be everything

    Yingluck Shinawatra, 2011 
    Yingluck Shinawatra casts her vote during Thailand’s election. Photograph: Lui Siu Wai/XinHua/Xinhua Press/Corbis

    It would be wrong to call Yingluck Shinawatra’s rise to power rapid. It was rocket-fuelled. Just over six weeks ago, the businesswoman agreed to stand for office for the first time. Today she is on the verge of becomingThailand‘s first female prime minister – all the more impressive given the country’s generally macho political culture.

    Yet she may be the exception that proves a rule. Already, the wider region has seen a string of dynastic female leaders: behind almost every successful woman lies a powerful man.

    “This is the magic formula for Asia,” says Bangkok-based political analystChris Baker. “You take the political capital from a male who has come before; you take the sheer novelty of a woman in a male-biased political culture. You add ‘good, feminine’, caring virtues and so on – and it seems to be a powerful combination. What is striking is that most of them have lasted some time and done quite well. [The dynastic factor] is not only very powerful in terms of coming to power but, by and large, it seems, in staying there.”

    In Yingluck’s case, the man is, of course, her elder brother Thaksin: the former prime minister who has polarised Thai political culture and now lives in exile. But the phenomenon began in 1960 with Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, the world’s first female prime minister, who took power following her husband’s assassination. Her daughter,Chandrika Kumaratunga, later became president.

    It applies to Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, India’s Indira Gandhi and Indonesia’s Megawati Sukarnoputri, all of whom followed in their fathers’ footsteps. The Philippines has seen both Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo take charge – following their father and husband respectively – while Sheikh Hasina Wajed, daughter of Bangladesh’s first president, has been prime minister twice; in between, the post was held by Khaleda Zia, a presidential widow.

    In Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is leading resistance to the military junta, is the daughter of independence hero Aung San. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail led Malaysia’s opposition when her husband Anwar Ibrahim was ousted and jailed; though she resigned her parliamentary seat on his return, she remains president of the People’s Justice Party.

    Farida Jalalzai, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St Louis, says that although numerically more men have capitalised on family connections, the proportion of women leaders with family ties is far higher. The phenomenon is also much more pronounced in south and south-east Asia and Latin America than other parts of the world, where female leaders tend to have emerged under their own steam.

    While it is hard to generalise about these countries, where women have vastly differing experiences, they have one thing in common: they are countries without a history of female political leadership. In particular, they have no self-made equivalent of Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher or Julia Gillard.

    These dynastic leaders emerge when the men have already left the stage: often murdered by opponents, or otherwise incapacitated. Frequently, there is no male alternative – perhaps because sons are too young; perhaps because others are not up to the task. “Sometimes a brother simply is not skilful enough – he doesn’t have the acumen or the character,” says Claudia Derichs of the Philipp University of Marburg, who has researched female dynastic leaders. But she adds that women could be particularly attractive to those casting about for a successor: “They somehow have an image of being more morally endowed.”

    Yingluck is unusual in following her brother, but Derichs thinks she fits the mould of dynastic leaders perfectly. Yingluck has described Thaksin as a second father – he is 17 years her senior – and although he is still alive, he was removed from Thailand’s political stage by a military coup. He now lives in Dubai, as a fugitive from corruption charges that he says were politically motivated.

    And like many of the other women leaders, 44-year-old Yingluck has run explicitly under her relative’s mantle. The party she fronts used the slogan “Thaksin thinks – Puea Thai does” and her brother has described her as his “clone” – later caveating that he meant she shares his way of thinking.

    Indira Gandhi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir BhuttoIndian prime minister Indira Gandhi shakes hands with Pakistan’s president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, with his daughter Benazir Bhutto beside him, 1972. Photograph: Agence France Presse/AFP/Getty Images”I think people choose some women because they think they are more likely to be benchwarmers per se and that they can ‘take on’ the identities of their male relatives better than a man who perhaps has his own independent political agenda,” says Jalalzai. “Sometimes these women actually campaign that they will represent their male relative’s agenda and will utilise traditional conceptions of women’s role in the family in doing so. This often resonates with the public, who would not normally elect a woman to the position.”

    That is certainly true for Yingluck, who repeatedly asked voters on the campaign trail: “If you love my brother, will you give his younger sister a chance?”

    Her path may have been somewhat easier than that of other female leaders in Asia. While Thai women have struggled in the political realm – only an eighth of MPs are female and at the grassroots, village heads are overwhelmingly male – they have been highly successful in other spheres. Earlier this year a report by accountants Grant Thornton said Thailand boasted the highest proportion (45%) of women in senior roles in business; 30% of companies had female CEOs.

    Many in Thailand are proud to have elected a female leader and even senior Democrats, bitterly opposed to Puea Thai, suggest the voters’ willingness to back a woman speaks well for the country. A survey by the Matichon newspaper, asking what people thought of having a female prime minister, found that 70% saw it as a move in the right direction and an indication of equality.

    “I’m sick of men in politics. They are good at being corrupt. They are not as responsible as women,” declared Bangkok noodle seller Somiat Kiatsommart, one of the voters who swept Puea Thai to victory. But he acknowledged that Yingluck – the youngest of nine children – had not been an obvious choice. “All of Thaksin’s brothers are stupid. If they were actually clever, he would have asked one of them.”

    In fact, Thaksin was succeeded by his ally Samak Sundaravej and his brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat – both disqualified from office – before he asked his youngest sister to stand. “It is the skilful use of family ties rather than family ties alone that positions one as a successful candidate,” says Jalalzai, adding that in most cases women with such connections were very politically experienced before taking office.

    At the start of the campaign, many saw Yingluck as little more than a puppet and questioned her nomination. “Actually it turned out to be a brilliant choice,” says Kevin Hewison, an expert on Thailand at the University of North Carolina. “She electrified the campaign.”

    Although an electoral neophyte, she learned quickly. True, she has been surrounded by experienced political figures, has spoken to her brother two or three times a week, and has stuck tightly to the script. She dodged a debate with Democratic prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva that would probably have exposed her weaknesses. But many contenders – male as well as female – have been unable to stick to a political message and observe the discipline of a campaign; and many struggle to deliver fluent presentations or engage with ordinary voters. Yingluck wowed the vast rallies as she sped along the campaign trail.

    “I might be new to being a politician, but I have had experience of politics from a young age . . . I understand it very well and especially on 19 September [2006, the day Thaksin was toppled] I learned the nature of politics,” she told the Guardian last week.

    Her father was an MP; her sister a mayor; and, of course, she has seen her brother’s rise. She also became involved with Puea Thai after Thaksin fled to Dubai. In a 2009 cable obtained by WikiLeaks, the then US ambassador to Bangkok noted: “Yingluck appeared far more poised during this meeting than she has been in the past. She spoke with confidence about party operations, strategy and goals . . . While it was obvious that politics does not come as naturally to Yingluck as it does to her brother, one suspects she may well have a bright future with the party.”

    The depiction of female leaders as innocents reflects enduring stereotypes about women in politics, but it can also be exploited by them. They can embody the promise of change and represent moral purity in comparison to their opponents.

    “I think this time people don’t want me to be acting as a politician, but knowing how to solve problems and I can use my experience in management,” Yingluck says, pointing to her experience heading one of the Shinawatra family’s companies.

    Democrats say they also found it harder to counter Puea Thai because they did not want to be seen as bullying a woman – a factor Derichs believes is common.

    Surichoke Sopha, a Democrat MP, argues that Yingluck’s femininity put his party on the defensive. “It was her strong point, and it is all about turning strong points into weak points . . . But our campaign people decided not to touch it,” he says. That may have been wise: the Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos attempted to dismiss Aquino as “just a housewife” – a tag she embraced and turned to her advantage.

    But once Yingluck is in charge, experts say, she will be subject to all the same mud-slinging that a man would be in what promises to be an enduring and bitter political conflict. Her brother has divided Thai politics: while many see him as a champion of the rural poor, the urban middle and upper classes regard him as authoritarian and corrupt. In comparison, she explicitly drew on her gender to position herself as a reconciliation candidate in the campaign. “I will utilise my femininity to work fully for our country,” she promised.

    “She is more gentle, more understanding and more serene” says Prapat Chongsanguan of the Puea Thai economic working group. “It will be better for the atmosphere right now: People won’t feel so threatened.”

    But Chalidaporn Songsamphan, a well-known feminist and a professor at Thammasat University, warns that hopes are dangerously high. “It’s not that easy to reconcile these groups. People are expecting too much from her just because she’s a woman,” she says. “People are expecting her to be amother to Thai society.”

    Chalidaporn also notes that dynastic women often struggle to establish themselves. While Thaksin’s parties have included some powerful and competent women, “It’s difficult to see [Yingluck] from a different perspective than as a proxy for her brother,” she says.

    Though Yingluck insists she will lead in her own right, taking advice from Thaksin but making the key decisions, observers are highly sceptical – particularly given his centrality to the campaign, and Puea Thai’s keenness to introduce an amnesty allowing him to return. But Jalalzai says that, in other cases, female leaders have proved far less malleable than men have assumed. “The reality is that most of the time these women have their own political agendas and are usually not easily controlled by men.” Family disputes are not uncommon.

    Many of the women who voted for Yingluck hope that she will develop her own set of priorities, tackling issues that disproportionately affect them. “She might bring in more women’s rights,” says soft drinks vendor Sukhpatra Chockmo. “A lot of women suffer domestic abuse and rape; I hope she can improve the situation.”

    But Virada Somswadi, founder of Chiang Mai University’s women’s studies programme, told the Bangkok Post that Yingluck entered politics “because of other political factors. She cannot be a representative of women’s groups, because she has never expressed her vision and stance regarding the protection of women’s interests.”

    Female leaders do not always promote female-focused policies, nor promote other women. Nor do they necessarily make it easier for other women to follow in their footsteps – even women with similarly powerful family connections. The current president of the Philippines is not one of Corazon Aquino’s four daughters, but Benigno: her only son.


    Do you feel that Yingluck can unite Thailand and what can she do for women’s issues ?

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