Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra: It's not easy to be me!

No, the election result is not out yet. The pretty photos of Ms Yingluck Shinawatra above (from various source from the Net - just google for 'Yingluck Shinawatra', will you?!) are not the photos of her celebrating her victory.

But I can imagine, though, that Ms Yingluck Shinawatra (with her Puea Thai party) to win with a convincing margin against the incumbent PM Abhisit Vejjajiva and his ruling Democrats.

I can imagine she'll declare in her victory speech that it's not easy to be her (Fully agreed with that!) and that she will prove to be more than some pretty face (Her is indeed pretty, but that's not the point!).

I can imagine she'll clarify upfront that she's no Superman.

(Some of you might have pointed out correctly that the above 'imagination' is very much affected by the song, "It's not easy to be me" performed by "Five for Fighting". Heh.)

Yes, she is that popular. It's a pity, however, that she was not taking the challenge for a debate against PM Abhisit Vejjajiva. Quoted from Wikipedia entry on "Yingluck Shinawatra":
On 15 May 2011, the Democrat Party invited Yingluck Shinawatra to a political debate with its leader, prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, as election campaigns are becoming heated on the eve of a general election to be held in Thailand on July 3. Pheu Thai Party declined the invitation. Chalerm Ubumrung, one of Pheu Thai Party executives, declared that the national debate is not necessary for Thai politics since it is only used in presidential elections.

Well...irregardless, her presence brings along a sweet promise of reconciliation which is definitely very much welcomed by the Thais.

In her bid to become Thailand's first female prime minister, Ms Yingluck said she planned to use her attributes as a woman to promote national reconciliation and asked for the chance to prove herself.

"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.

"I will utilise my femininity to work fully for our country," she said.

Ms Yingluck's much-lauded feminine charms have indeed electrified the campaign trail.

When she smiles and bends at the knees to exchange a wai - the prayer-like gesture of respect - with a wizened grandmother or weathered farmer, people seem to warm to her.

Partially quoted from BBC, "Profile: Yingluck Shinawatra".

And here are some of the latest news on the Thai election today:
As Thailand heads to the polls today, both the opposition and ruling parties have said they are confident of winning the election, which is taking place after six years of political turmoil since fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup.

Prime Minister and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday he was confident his party would win in today's elections and have the legitimacy to form the next government.

Mr Abhisit, 46, also called on voters nationwide to turn out in force to make their decision, and for all parties to accept the election results.

Meanwhile, the opposition Pheu Thai's candidate Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday she was confident her party would win more than 250 of the 500 seats in Parliament.

Asked about the formation of the next government, Ms Yingluck, the youngest sister of Mr Thaksin, said it was too soon to talk about the issue at this time.

Ms Yingluck, a 44-year-old businesswoman, also insisted that her elder brother is not involved in this general election.

Campaigning in Thailand wound down to a close yesterday, with political parties prohibited from any campaign activity after 6pm yesterday to midnight today.

Meanwhile, flooding has forced the election authorities in Sukhothai to relocate five polling stations in two districts to higher ground as the Yom River continued to rise.

In Pak Kwae, where floods have affected 1,500 residents, 60 boats would be used to shuttle voters from their flooded homes to the makeshift polling stations today, said chairman of Pak Kwae tambon administration organisation Boonserm Choeywatkor. Bangkok Post

From Today, "Both parties confident of victory, as Thailand decides today".

Thailand votes on Sunday in a closely fought election seen as pivotal to the future of the deeply divided kingdom, after years of political deadlock and often bloody street protests.

The poll is the first major electoral test for the government since mass opposition rallies paralysed Bangkok last year, scaring away foreign tourists and sparking a military crackdown that left about 90 people dead.

Now the tense vote could herald a comeback for fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his political allies.

Ousted in a 2006 military coup and now living in self-imposed exile, the ex-tycoon has tapped his youngest sister to run in his place.

Yingluck Shinawatra, a telegenic businesswoman tipped by many to become Thailand's first ever female prime minister, is a 44-year-old political novice described by Thaksin as his "clone".

Polls show the mother-of-one enjoying a comfortable lead over the ruling Democrats, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is fighting for his political life after less than three years in office.

Thaksin remains a hugely divisive figure, adored by millions of rural voters but hated by the ruling elite and wanted on terrorism charges over the 2010 protests by his "Red Shirt" supporters.

His opposition Puea Thai party has proposed an amnesty for convicted politicians if it wins -- a move apparently aimed at bringing Thaksin home, where he faces a jail term for corruption imposed in his absence.

But many doubt the Bangkok-based elite in government, military and palace circles would allow the one-time owner of Manchester City football club to come back as a free man.

If Thaksin tries to return the army may "strike back", said Thai academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

"If he sets foot in Thailand the military could accuse him of coming back and trying to create disunity among Thais."

The military is a constant wildcard in a nation that has seen almost as many coups as elections, although experts say it will be harder for the military to justify another intervention if Puea Thai scores a big victory.

The judiciary also has a record of banning political parties and their executives. Parties linked to Thaksin have won the most seats in the past four elections, but the courts reversed the results of the last two polls.

In contrast Abhisit's Democrat Party -- the country's oldest, with a support base in Bangkok and the south -- has not won a general election in nearly two decades.

The British-born premier took office in a 2008 parliamentary vote after a court ruling threw out the previous administration, and he is accused by his foes of being an unelected puppet of the military and the establishment.

The vote is seen as a major test of the kingdom's ability to emerge from its long political crisis, which pits Thaksin's "Red Shirt" supporters against the rival "Yellow Shirt" royalist protest movement.

Revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 83, is seen as a unifying figure in a country often riven by violence, but he has been in hospital since September 2009 and the post-succession landscape is shrouded in uncertainty.

During the eventual transition period the elite "would like to have their own people in charge because it's such a critical time", said Pavin.

"Why would they let a Red government whom they accused of nurturing anti-monarchy sentiment to be charge at the time?"

About 47 million people are eligible to vote in the election, which will select 500 members of the lower chamber, the House of Representatives. Polling stations open at 8:00am (0100 GMT) and close at 3:00pm.

From Channel NewsAsia, "Divided Thailand votes in crucial election".

Five tumultuous years after a military coup divided this Southeast Asian kingdom, Thailand held pivotal elections Sunday that will determine whether it can end the long-running political crisis that has shattered its reputation for stability.

Many people fear the ballot, the first since last year's anti-government demonstrations brought Bangkok to its knees, could trigger a new era of upheaval if the results are not accepted by rival protesters or the coup-prone army.

Television stations reported long lines at polling stations nationwide as registered voters chose a new 500-member parliament. Security was tight, with around 170,000 police deployed nationwide to protect booths, but no incidents of violence were immediately reported.

Opposition leader Yingluck Shinawatra, whose Pheu Thai party is considered a strong front-runner, was among the first to vote, dropping her ballot into a sealed green metal container in the capital, Bangkok. She thanked her supporters and called on voters to come out in high numbers.

Campaigning ended Saturday night, and a ban on soliciting votes extends to the use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

The Election Commission is expected to announce preliminary results Sunday night.

While the poll itself is a race between Yingluck and ruling Democrats led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, it has come to be viewed as a referendum on the divisive legacy of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's exiled elder brother. Thaksin's overthrow in 2006 set the nation on a downward spiral from which it is still struggling to recover.

Now living in Dubai to escape a two-year prison sentence on graft charges, Thaksin's ascent to power in 2001 touched off a societal schism between this Southeast Asian nation's haves and have-nots - between the marginalized rural poor who hailed his populism and an elite establishment that sees him as a corrupt, autocratic threat to the monarchy and the status quo.

That schism is playing out Sunday at the ballot box, and much is at stake.

Thailand "is at a crossroads," said Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. If the results are not respected, "we'll be back to ground zero - more protests, more violence."

And, many fear, more bloodshed - worse perhaps than last year's anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok, which left more than 90 people dead and the city of glass high-rises and decaying apartment blocks in flames.

Local polls have consistently given Yingluck's opposition party a strong lead, meaning 61-year-old Thaksin may "win the elections ... in absentia," said Thitinan Pondsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn's Institute of Security and International Studies.

But the predictions have given neither Pheu Thai nor the ruling Democrats the 250-seat majority needed to form a government, meaning there will likely be fierce jockeying to win over smaller parties to build a governing coalition.

The question haunting this nation of 66 million people - known to tourists as "the Land of Smiles" - is what comes next?

Will the army and the monarchy accept a pro-Thaksin government or Thaksin's potential return? Will the opposition accept a continuation of Abhisit's rule if he manages to stay in power? Will the losing side take to the streets? Will there be a coup?

After Thaksin was ousted amid accusations of corruption and alleged disrespect to the king, his supporters regrouped and won the country's last election in 2007. But the two pro-Thaksin premiers who filled his shoes were forced from office in controversial court rulings handed down after enraged "Yellow Shirt" demonstrators took to the streets, at one point shutting down both of Bangkok's international airports, stranding hundreds of thousands of travelers.

When Abhisit came to power in the army-pressured political maneuverings that followed, it was the opposition "Red Shirts" who protested - first overrunning a regional summit in 2009 that saw heads of state evacuated off a hotel rooftop, then staging last year's two-month demonstration, which paralyzed the capital.

All this has taken place against the backdrop of growing concern about a smooth royal succession. Ailing 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been hospitalized since 2009, and any shift in the constitutional monarchy's traditional balance of power could have far-reaching consequences.

On Thursday, army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha reiterated his vow to stay neutral in Sunday's vote, dismissing rumors the military would intervene.

But with hardened rivals further apart than ever, Thitinan said "the signs and signals" for a peaceful resolution are not good. If anything, they "have pointed to more army intervention," he said.

"The issue is whether they (the army) would be willing to make a deal, whether they would be willing to make some accommodation" with the opposition, Thitinan said. Some speculate Yingluck would be allowed to take power in exchange for an agreement not to prosecute soldiers who took part in the coup or last year's crackdown.

Last month, Prayuth urged voters to cast ballots for "good people" - comments widely interpreted as a veiled attack on the opposition and a plug for Abhisit.

The tide of recent history, though, is not on Prayuth's side. Thaksin and his proxies have won the country's last four elections. Abhisit's Democrat party, by contrast, has not won a popular vote since 1992.

Siripan said Thailand's military and elite upper classes are "trapped in an old illusion of Thailand that is not compatible with democracy."

"They don't want to adapt," Siripan said. They want to safeguard their own status quo and "they're not aware that people have changed, that society has changed" over the last five years. People are more educated, more politically active, more aware of their rights, she said.

Although Thaksin is credited for opening the door to such change, he is "hardly a model when it comes to promoting democracy," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Though some see him as a hero to the poor, Thaksin exhibited a sharp authoritarian streak in office and was accused of corruption, cronyism and abuse of power.

Though Thaksin today lives thousands of miles (kilometers) away from Thailand, but there is little doubt who controls the opposition. Their campaign slogan is "Thaksin Thinks, Pheu Thai Acts."

Oxford-educated Abhisit, meanwhile, has declared the vote "the best opportunity to remove the poison of Thaksin from Thailand" once and for all. He has also used his campaign to blame opposition protesters for burning Bangkok last year, saying a vote for Yingluck would be a vote for chaos.

From Today, "Polls open in Thailand; big parties deeply divided".

Thais have begun voting in what is expected to be a tight general election, one that could prove pivotal to the future of the kingdom.

Sunday's poll is the first major electoral test for the government since mass opposition rallies in Bangkok last year, which sparked a military crackdown that left around 90 people dead.

Yingluck Shinawatra, the head of the Pheu Thai party and sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is expected by pollsters to have an edge. She is standing against Abhijit Vejjajiva, the incumbent prime minister and leader of the Democrat party.

Thaksin Shinawatra has lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai since being deposed in a military coup in 2006.

His "red shirt" supporters rallied in central Bangkok last year, bringing the area to a standstill for two months. Demonstrators set buildings on fire, forced businesses to shut down and clashed with security forces.

The Democrat party wants Shinawatra to return to the country to stand trial for corruption.

"There are 90,000 polling stations ... across Thailand open now, 180,000 police have been deployed in order to keep the peace. We're not expecting any widespread violence, certainly not on the scale of what we saw in Bangkok last year," reported Al Jazeera's Aela Callan from Khon Kaen, in northern Thailand.

'Dirtiest polls'

Vejjajiva took office in 2008 after a parliamentary vote, following a court ruling that threw out the previous administration. His party has not won a general election in nearly two decades.

Both major parties have presented similar populist campaigns during the six weeks leading up to the polls, focusing on subsidies for the poor, improved healthcare and investment in infrastructure.

The election will be Thailand's 26th since it became a democracy in 1932, before which it was an absolute monarchy.

The country has been governed under 17 constitutions and has had 18 military coups (both actual and attempted).

Phra Rakkiart, a former public health minister, has warned that Sunday's polls would go down as the "dirtiest in history".

"Canvassers sell lottery tickets to voters and offer them a big reward if their candidates win in the election," the Bangkok Post quoted him as saying, adding that election fraud was ingrained.

Al Jazeera's Callan reported that on Sunday morning there had already been three arrests over allegations of vote buying, and that election observers from both parties were out in force.

The fear of violence centres on whether the red shirts perceive that either vote rigging cost them seats, or if they are not allowed to form a government.

"If they cheat there will be protests in Bangkok for sure. It will be the same as the Rajaprasong protest," said Tan Chaithep, chief assistant of the northeastern red shirt village of Ban Nong Hoo Ling.

The Rajaprasong intersection was the focal point of last year's demonstrations.

Thailand has about 47 million eligible voters, who will select 500 members of the lower house of parliament (the House of Representatives).

Polling opened at 8:00am local time (1:00am GMT), and will close at 3:00pm local time (8:00am GMT).

From Al Jazeera, "Thais vote in general election".

The Yingluck Shinawatra-led Pheu Thai party is expected to win the polls. Whether it gets to govern successfully is another matter.

THREE days before today’s polls, Thai Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha had to go on record to state that the military would not stage a coup if the Yingluck Shinawatra-led Pheu Thai party wins and forms a coalition government. “The rumours are merely rumours. There’ll be no coup. I have said so several times,” said Prayuth, one of the masterminds of the coup that ousted Yingluck’s brother Thaksin as Prime Minister on Sept 19, 2006.

Most Thais do not share the general’s optimism that the military would stick to its word of not interfering in politics again. Most are pessimistic about post-election Thailand. And Thai political analysts agree that the election will not magically solve the country’s sixyear political conflict.

So what’s th e political pundits’ prediction of the outcome of the elections? “It should be a Pheu Thai victory,” said Kevin Hewison, director of the Carolina Asia Center at the University of North Carolina, United States.

“The margin is unclear. All polls say it will be a huge victory. I will be surprised if it is as large as some of the polls have suggested. But it will be a convincing win.”

Hewison, a Thai watcher since the 1970s, added: “If not, there will be a lot of explaining to do.” He was, of course, alluding to the much whispered talk that this election is very “dirty”.

“If the opinion polls are right,” wrote Suranand Vejjajiva in Bangkok Post on Friday, “for the fourth election in a row over the past decade, the political party led in person or in absentia by Thaksin will prevail.”

Suranand, a political analyst who served in the Thaksin government, and Hewison basically voiced what most people (even politicians from Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat party quietly admit) take as a given: Pheu Thai will win most of the 500 MP seats up for grabs. It is all a matter of margin.

What can’t be agreed is whether Pheu Thai can form the next government. Conventional wisdom will dictate that it should be a walk-in-the- park for a party with the most seats to form a government.

But this is Thailand. The main player in Thai politics can’t even be mentioned and there is an invisible hand manipulating events behind the scene.

“If it is a normal election, Pheu Thai will form the government and Yingluck will be Thailand’s first female Prime Minister,” opined Kan Yuenyong, executive director of Siam intelligence Unit, a think tank specialising on politics, economics, public policy and foreign affairs.

“But I would like to make a bet that the Democrat party will form the next government,” he said. He, however, qualified his bet with “unless Pheu Thai can win a landslide victory.”

In this election, Kan explained, Pheu Thai was not only fighting the Democrat party and its coalition partners such as Bhum Jai Thai (Pride of Thailand Party). It is Pheu Thai, Thaksin and the Red Shirts supporters vs the rest of Thailand minus the neutrals (who, based on some estimates, comprise about 50% of the population).

To pigeon-hole Thai politics, it is: New Force vs Old Force. New Capital vs Old Capital. Progressive vs Conservative. “But it is not as simple as that,” explained Kan. “For example, there are people in the New Force who are in the Old Force.”

What the Thaksin forces are facing, said Hewison , is the power that be. In a nutshell, he said, the power that be are: military (which has either been in government or has had considerable influence over the government for many decades); big businesses (particularly Sino-Thai businessmen who control big banks and conglomerates and have a relatively easy relationship with the military); aristocratic elite (those who see themselves as born to hold position in the military, businesses and government and who consider Thailand as theirs); and the palace (a term used for people around the monarchy).

And Thaksin is the figure the power that be fears the most. “... in 2005, Thaksin grew to be a threat to the so-called establishment, as his influence at the time undeniably wielded itself across the board – in politics, business, bureaucracy and through his classmates in the military,” wrote Suranand in his column Let It Be.

(Thaksin is a former police officer who studied at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School.) Hewison said Thailand was facing political turmoil because, for many years, it had an unspoken agreement on how politics was organised.

“Before the 1997 Constitution (described as Thailand’s most liberal), weak coalition governments rose and fell but there was a power structure that organised the way Thailand operated,” the academic explained.

Then came Thaksin, who has never lost in a Thai election and is the only Prime Minister to complete a full elected term. He “usurped” the elite’s power.

“The power that be decided they would not give up their power without a fight,” Hewison said. “In the last two or three elections (Thailand’s April 2006 election was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court), the people who lost did not accept the result and worked to overthrow the result through a coup and judicial intervention,” Hewison said.

The odds are stacked against a victorious Pheu Thai. Even if it wins the most seats, it might not be able to persuade other parties to join it to form a coalition government. The power that be can always stage a “silent coup” by persuading other parties to decline the Pheu Thai invitation.

This happened in 2009 when the prime minister’s post landed on Abhisit’s lap. Chumpol Silpaarcha, leader of Abhisit’s coalition partner, the Chart Thai Pattana Party, has admitted that his party had a “forced marriage” with the Democrats and three other junior parties, Bhum Jai Thai, Puea Pandin and Social Action, and that it was cobbled together by the military.

Even if the Pheu Thai managed to form a government its rule might be short-lived. And the playbook for the downfall of two pro-Thaksin Prime Ministers– Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wong sawat – could be played out again.

“Yellow Shirts will make a mass street protest. Yingluck will face a legal charge (allegedly for giving false testimony during an asset concealment case involving Thaksin), Pheu Thai (is the reincarnation of the People Power Party which is the reincarnation of Thai Rak Thai) will face a legal charge to dissolve,” Kan predicted.

In short, it will be déjà vu again. And if Abhisit and the Democrats returned to power, the country will revisit the bloody conflict of 2010- 2011. The Red Shirts will return to the streets and Abhisit’s government will deal with them with live bullets. When will it end?

“Whatever we call them – power that be, the elite, the royalists, they have to make the historic compromise,” Hewison opined. “In other countries, the ruling class has done this in the past. They made the compromise and recognised that a democratic form of government is in fact another way of controlling the people.”

How about a coup, which will be Thailand’s 19th since the 1932 revolution that saw the overthrow of the absolute monarchy? “You can’t rule it out. The military would like that to be a sort of a fallback option. General Prayuth has shown himself to be anti-Thaksin, anti-Pheu Thai and anti-Yingluck,” Hewison said.

“If things do not go according to his desires, a coup is on the cards.”

From the Star, "Is a coup on the cards?".

The opposition Pheu Thai Party's final election campaign push yesterday highlighted national reconciliation, promising to empower the existing panel set up after the bloody protests last year to continue its work.

If it took power, Pheu Thai would allow the Independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (ITRCT), chaired by lawyer |Kanit na Nakorn, to continue |its fact-finding task, the |party's prime minister |candidate Yingluck Shinawatra said.

"We would love, not quarrel with each other anymore," she said. "The party will bring peace and international respect back to our country."

Kanit's panel was set up nearly a year ago to probe the military crackdown on the red-shirt protests that caused 91 deaths. The panel has yet to yield any results.

Yingluck said she would bring more lawyers who specialised in public law to the panel to boost its efficiency.

Key leaders of the Pheu Thai Party took to the stage at Rajamangala National Stadium amid heavy rain yesterday to explain their policies to run the country.

Yingluck, who is tipped to become the next prime minister, began her speech by denying accusations made by rightist movements that the Pheu Thai was anti-monarchy.

She told a crowd of thousands that it was not true. "But I don't want to pay much attention to the issue or settle any scores," she said. "I would use my brain and heart to create policies to run the country in accordance with Vision 2020," she said, referring to the party's plans to develop the country over the next nine years.

The party has a clear policy to reduce living costs by terminating the fuel fund, she said. |It would review prices of goods once it got the chance to run |the government. It would also review the healthcare system and ensure it had good medicine and adequate hospitals, she said.

The party has a policy to allocate Bt100 million to every province to establish a fund for women, she said. It would also adjust incomes for the ageing population as well as issue credit cards to farmers and energy cards to taxi and motorcycle taxi drivers, she said.

If the party won the election and took power, by next January all grade one students would get tablet PCs, while maximum personal income tax would be reduced from 30 to 23 per cent. The minimum wage would be raised to Bt300 and basic salaries for bureaucrats adjusted to Bt15,000. Those buying their first cars and houses would get a tax refund from the government, she said.

Pheu Thai deputy leader Plodprasop Surasawadee told the crowd that the time was up for Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Democrat Party leader.

"The time for the Pheu Thai Party has arrived, Yingluck's time has come," Plodprasop shouted.

Traffic on Ramkhamhaeng Road was jammed from 4.30pm onwards. Supporters took the initiative of distributing party leaflets or setting up stalls selling Yingluck and Pheu Thai T-shirts.

Pheu Thai supporters at the stadium expressed confidence that the party would win tomorrow's election.

"The poor people will get out for this election. In the past they've stayed in, but they're going to be No 1," said one woman from the Northeast.

Whether there will be peace after the election is the big question, however.

The prospect of violence seemed to lurk in the back of the minds of attendees. Those that did acknowledge it expressed a range of emotions, from belligerence to fear.

"I've thought about it for a long time and I've made up my mind not to be afraid," said an elderly attendee. "If they come, so be it."

A monk in attendance admitted to being worried and confused about the state of the country after the election. Still, he was firm in his support for Pheu Thai.

"They might not complete 100 per cent of their policies but they'll probably still do good work," he said.

One foreign student from Ramkhamhaeng University who was at the event expressed fear.

"I have the same feelings that other people have, I know what happened last year," he said.

Still, the general atmosphere at the stadium in advance of this crucial election was one of excitement.

From Asiaone, "Yingluck: We'll reconcile". (02/07/11)


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