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[Tulsathit Taptim] Yingluck’s journey as Thai prime minister has begun

So, Episode III here we come.

It has officially begun, with Yingluck Shinawatra vowing to bring back political peace and never to work for any particular person or group. If that sounds very familiar to you, it’s because Abhisit Vejjajiva made exactly the same pledges in late 2008. Out he has limped and in she strides.

The transition was smooth. We have clear-cut election results to thank for that. Again, feeling dj vu? That might be because the late Samak Sundaravej took the country’s helm in similar manner in early 2008. There had been a coup, military rule, and widespread speculation after the Council for Nation Security “returned the power to the people” that a pro-Thaksin resurgence would be blocked at all costs. Against all odds, Samak did it, although what happened after he became prime minister was another story.

And here it goes for Yingluck. The much-taunted Thai democracy continues to display its funny side. Not only has a pro-Thaksin political movement resumed power, but his sister has become Thailand’s first female prime minister, and the man “hiding” in exile has had to deny that he’s the one setting up her first Cabinet. If he was really doing it as alleged, take it any way you like ― a boost to democracy or an insult of dictatorship.

Old names and familiar tales are re-appearing. Thaksin’s ex-wife Pojaman has managed to resurrect her presence through the headlines without necessarily having to appear in public. Thaksin’s other siblings have been busy handling visitors scrambling for Cabinet posts. Revenue authorities are also right on cue regarding tax issues concerning the Shinawatras. Some top men in uniform or law enforcement big guns, the DSI chief in particular, are having sleepless nights.

What differentiates this from Episode I? Obviously, it is the deep division that was not yet there when Thaksin reigned and which was just developing during Samak’s tenure. Like Abhisit, Yingluck inherited a country wrecked by detrimental partisan politics. She is torn between the urge or pressure to help her big brother and the knowledge that such an agenda could crush real reconciliation in the process.

In Episode I, it was all about “assets” or wealth. This time it could be a fight for pride and dignity, and various sources have confirmed that Thaksin’s only wish remains that he is allowed to return home with his head high and without having to go straight to jail. We should not count his seized 46 billion baht ($1.53 billion) out, though, simply because that’s a lot of money.

Another difference from Episode I is that the yellow shirts, Thaksin’s sworn enemies, have all but gone into hibernation. Unlike Samak, Yingluck will still be able to work at Government House come what may. But like Samak and Thaksin, she faces the temptation of interpreting the election mandate in favour of vested interests. With or without the yellow shirts, the alarm bell will scream if she falls into that trap.

In her acceptance speech, Yingluck said that she expected tough challenges and scrutiny as the first woman ever to lead Thailand. What was left unsaid was that the challenges and scrutiny would have more to do with the fact that she is Thaksin’s sister. Yingluck touched upon this taboo only in passing, vowing that she would never exercise the voters’ mandate in favour of any particular group or person.

As we can see, the stage is set for either a breakthrough, or a return to the vicious cycle. Confronted with the same circumstances that have proved risky or dangerous in the past, Yingluck can choose to cope with them using the old mindsets or new ones. Picking the right approach will be her best protection.

If Yingluck is looking vulnerable, it’s not because she’s a young woman and a political newcomer who reportedly needs someone to slip her a script every time a sensitive question is asked. If her status seems shaky, it’s because we compare it with that of her apparently invincible brother in the early 2000s. For all its omnipresence and the relatively harmonious situation of Thailand during those days, his government could not survive.

On one hand, Yingluck is overseeing a dramatic political resurgence. On the other, she’s starting off less powerful than her brother a decade ago in a country much more divided now than then. Old players in new, probably more dangerous circumstances, are marking the beginning of this new episode, in which she is the only fresh face. The loud cheers heard during her televised inauguration ushered her in and brought the curtain down on a fairy tale.

Reality, which has been a silent spectator, is waiting.

By Tulsathit Taptim, The Nation (Thailand)

(Asia News Network)
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