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Sunday, August 7, 2011

THAILAND: First Female Prime Minister's Herculean Task!

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Lennox Samuels, / Aug 6, 2011 9:37 AM EDT.

Yingluck Shinawatra
Pornchai Kittiwongsakul, AFP / Getty Images.

Thailand's New Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra must end unrest, heal divisions, fix the economy—and prove she’s not a puppet of her brother, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra. By Lennox Samuels.

At a meeting with foreign reporters last month, Yingluck Shinawatra stood by her comments that had earlier raised feminists' eyebrows, saying that because women are “more compromising,” she would be better able to pursue reconciliation in Thailand, where years of unrest and agitation exploded into deadly violence in May 2010.

Prime Minister-Elect Yingluck will find that healing the nation’s deep divisions is a Herculean task for anyone, regardless of gender. And as the sister—some say clone—of the most polarizing figure in modern Thai politics, the ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, she’s likely to find the odds even longer.

Confirmed by Parliament this week—296 to 3 with 197 abstentions—as Thailand’s 28th prime minister, and the first woman to hold the office, the 44-year-old political novice is walking into a minefield. She must deliver on campaign promises to raise the minimum wage, help the poor and improve the economy, placate the Red Shirts who helped her Puea Thai party win the general election, address pressing issues such as flooding in the south and the rise of commodity prices including pork, maneuver around a fierce parliamentary opposition, and make no drastic moves that could force the hand of the powerful —and suspicious—Thai military. And of course, make sure she's not seen as a proxy for her exiled elder sibling.  

“Well, she doesn’t have to persuade anybody about that,” Bangkok political commentator Voranai Vanijaka said about the relationship between Yingluck and Thaksin, who now lives mostly in Dubai. “The majority of Thais know who’s actually in charge—and that’s her brother. The fact that she has not been able to give clear answers indicates that.”

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