YINGLUCK SHINAWATRA

PHEU THAI PARTY

After the governing People's Power Party (an incarnation of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party) was dissolved and its executive board was banned from political activity by a Constitutional Court in December 2008, former People's Power Party MPs formed the Pheu Thai (“For Thais”) Party. Yongyuth Wichaidit became the leader of the party.

Yongyuth had stated his intention of resigning as party leader in late 2010. Speculation about a snap election in early 2011 heightened internal debate with regards to the party leadership. The front runners were Yingluck Shinawatra—Thaksin’s sister— and Mingkwan Sangsuwan, who had led the opposition in an unsuccessful motion of no confidence against the Democrat Party-led coalition government. Yingluck was selected to head the party (For more on her see the article about her years in power).

In May 2011, the day after the government announced general election, Pracha Prasopdee, a member of Puea Thai Party with close links to Thaksin, was wounded after being shot in the back in Samut Prakan in the outskirts of Bangkok. It was unclear whether the motive for the shooting was political.

July 2011 Elections in Thailand

The House of Representatives was dissolved on May 10, 2011. The election was scheduled for July 3, 2011. The 500 seats up for grabs included 375 party-listed seat constituencies for individual candidates, and 125 under the additional Member System (proportional system). Under the proportional system candidates were chosen from lists according to the proportion of votes each party receives nationwide on a separate ballot.

The Pheu Thai Party won a landslide victory, winning 265 seats in the 500 seat House of Representatives of Thailand. It was only the second time in Thai political history that a single party won a parliamentary majority (the first time was by Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party) . The voter turnout was just over 75 percent. The election was widely see as a referendum on Thaksin. Abhisit stepped down as Democratic Party leader, taking responsibility for his party’s loss.

Results of the July 3, 2011 House of Representatives of Thailand Thai general election (seats and percentage of the vote): 1) Pheu Thai, 265 seats (204 constituency, 61 proportional), 53 Percent; 2) Democrat Party, seats 159 (115 constituency, 44 proportional), 31 percent; 3) Bhumjaithai, 34 seats (29 constituency, 5 proportional), 6.8 percent ; 4) Chartthaipattana, 19 seats (15 constituency, 4 proportional), 3.8 percent; 5) Chart Pattana Puea Pandin, 7 seats (5 constituency, 2 proportional), 1.4 percent; 6) Phalang Chon, 7 seats (6constituency, 1 proportional), 1.4 percent; 7) Rak Thailand, 4 seats0.8 percent; 8) Matubhum, 2 seats, 0.4 percent; 9) Rak Santi, 1 seat 0.2 percent; 10) Mahachon, 1 seat 0.2 percent ; 10) New Democracy, 1 0.2 percent. [Source: Wikipedia]

There was a long interval between the time of the election and the declaration that the Pheu Thai Party officially won. The election results were finally acknowledged on July 27 , after the Election Commission dealt with a great number of objections over alleged irregularities. Reelections and recount were ordered to be held in several provinces, due to electoral fraud discovered by the Commission. Overall though there was relatively violence and fraud reported in connection with the elections. The first session of the National Assembly was convoked on August 1 at Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and its state opening was held at the same time. [Ibid]

The Thai military said that it accepted the outcome of the election, easing fears of a coup or some other military intervention and signaling that maybe the political crisis that started with Thaksin’s ouster in 2006 was finally over. Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon said: “I have talked to military leaders. We will allow politicians to work it out. The military will not get involved. The people have spoken clearly so the military cannot do anything. We accept it. After the election the Democratic Party decided to keep Abhisit Vejjajiva as its leader.

Yingluck Shinawatra

Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters wrote: “Yingluck hails from a wealthy and sprawling ethnic Chinese family in the northern Thai capital of Chiang Mai. Like Thaksin, she was steeped in politics since childhood, accompanying her father Lert, a businessman and member of parliament, when he visited rural constituents. Her cousin Chaisit Shinawatra, a former Thai army chief, said Yingluck's patience was a "family principle" inherited from their grandfather, a silk merchant, who knew the painstaking process by which thread was woven into cloth. "Our strength comes from our lineage," said Chaisit. [Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall, Reuters, January 29, 2014]

Yingluck, whose nickname is Khun Poo, or Pu for short, , is a Thai businesswoman and politician and leader of the Pheu Thai Party. Regarded as a political novice when she came to power, she is the younger sister of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. After the Pheu Thai Party was declared the winner in the July 2011 election Yingluck said, “Mr. Thaksin called me to congratulate me and encourage me. He told me that there is still much hard work ahead of us.” The Shinawatra family came 10th on a 2013 Forbes list of Thailand's richest with a combined fortune of $1.7 billion.

Yingluck was born on June 21, 1967 in Chiang Mai under the name San Kamphaeng. She is 5 feet 7 seven inches (1.70 meters) tall and arguably the best-looking world leader at the moment and possibly one of the most beautiful of all time.

Yingluck Shinawatra Becomes Thailand’s First Female Leader

On August 8, 2011, Yinglak Chinnawat, also spelled Yingluck Shinawatra, came to power as the 28th Prime Minister of Thailand following the July 2011 general election. She is Thailand’s first female prime minister and at age 44 was the youngest prime minister in 60 years.

Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters wrote: “Yingluck was a political neophyte when she swept to power in a July 2011 election on the back of support in Thailand's vote-rich rural north and northeast. Despite being sometimes dubbed the "reluctant prime minister", she had been groomed for office longer than many people realise. Once there, she deployed formidable personal charm to preside over two of the most peaceful years in Thailand's turbulent recent history. The economy motored along, but there were signs of the rampant corruption that would later fire up the protesters. In 2011, Thailand ranked 80 out of 182 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index; two years later, it placed 102 out of 175. Yingluck could not have survived as she had in in office without striking what McCargo calls "an elite deal" with the establishment to paper over Thailand's deep political divides and establish a kind of peace.[Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall, Reuters, January 29, 2014]

Thaksin and Yingluck have their power bases among the vote-rich north and northeast but their opponents accuse former premier Thaksin of manipulating the rural poor in those areas to entrench his power. The opposition draws strength from Bangkok's middle class and elite.

Yingluck Shinawatra Before the July 2011 Elections

In May 2011, the Pheu Thai Party, which maintains close ties to Thaksin, nominated Yingluck as their candidate for Prime Minister in the 2011 general election. A few weeks after she was named Pheu Thai Party leader Yingluck flew to Dubai during the Songkran new year holiday to visit Thaksin. “He is my brother...so I have to pay respects to him,” she said. After she returned she quit her job as head of the SC Asset Corp.

Yingluck was able to tun a disciplined campaign and excite her brother’s Red Shirt supporters at the same time. She campaigned on a platform of national reconciliation, poverty eradication, and corporate income tax reduction, while her rivals, the ruling Democrat Party, claimed that she was a Thaksin puppet who would act in the interests of her exiled brother. Thaksin’s opponents accused Yingluck of lying to Thailand’s Supreme Court to help Thaksin retain some of his assets. Yingluck’s party responded by filing a defamation suit.

On Yingluck’s campaign strategy, Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post, “Revered by his supporters, particularly in Thailand’s poorer regions, but loathed by conservative forces in the military, political elite and royal court, Thaksin is such a divisive figure that his sister has sought to balance appeals to the family’s devoted political base with assurances that she is not seeking revenge. In carefully scripted speeches and media interviews, she has mostly stuck to platitudes. [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington, June 13, 2011]

“A Western diplomat with long experience on Thailand likened her to Sarah Palin, “but with the sense to keep her mouth shut and avoid gaffes.” She declined to take part in a debate with her main opponent, Thailand’s current prime minister, Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva, and spent her time touring the country, wooing voters with her photogenic good looks, soothing tone and expansive appeals to both Thailand’s poor and its business community. [Ibid]

Speaking at Pheu Thai’s Bangkok headquarters, Yingluck said she had no immediate plans to pursue amnesty for her brother. Many Thais, said Yingluck, want Thaksin “to come home because he did many good things for the country.” But she added: “We have to move the country forward, to unite Thailand. Amnesty will be after that. If we do apply an amnesty, Dr. Thaksin will get the same treatment as any other” in a possible general pardon to reconcile rival camps.

Yingluck Shinawatra’s Life

Yingluck Shinawatra is the youngest of nine children of Lert and Yindee. Her father was a member of parliament for Chiang Mai. Yingluck grew up in Chiang Mai and attended Regina Coeli College, a private girls school, during here elementary school years and then Yupparaj College, a co-ed school, for junior and senior high school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Chiang Mai University in 1988 and a masters in public administration from Kentucky State University in 1991.

Yingluck began her career as a sales and marketing intern at Shinawatra Directories Co., Ltd., a telephone directory business founded by AT&T International and her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra,. She later became the director of procurement and the director of operations at the company. In 1994, she became the general manager of Rainbow Media, a subsidiary of International Broadcasting Corporation (which later became TrueVisions). She joined cellular operator Advanced Info Service Pcl (AIS) in 1999, and was made president three years later as Thailand's mobile phone market become one of Asia's fastest-growing.

Yingluck left AIS after Thaksin sold its parent company Shin Corp to Temasek Holdings Pte Ltd, Singapore's sovereign wealth fund, in a 2006 deal worth $3.8 billion that helped precipitate years of political instability. Yingluck then became the president of SC Asset Corp., a successful property developer owned by her relatives. She kept her position at SC Asset until she decided to run for the prime minister of Thailand.

Yingluck’s common-law husband is Anusorn Amornchat. They have one child, a son Supasek Amornchat. Anusorn was an executive of the Charoen Pokphand Group and managing director of meters Link Asia Corporation PCL. Yingluck sister’s, Yaowapa Wongsawat, is the wife of former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat.

Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters wrote: “Yingluck was not a natural politician. In 2009, her chief of staff Suranand Vejjajiva, remained "dismissive of her political prospects", according to a U.S. diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks. By the time she declared her candidacy in May 2011, Yingluck had become an influential figure within the Puea Thai Party. She was mobbed by adoring voters while campaigning in the north and northeast, where her brother's populist policies such as cheap healthcare and microcredit had won widespread support. "She gained more confidence when she visited rural areas," said a close advisor, who requested anonymity. [Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall, Reuters, January 29, 2014]

Yingluck Shinawatra During Thaksin’s Years in Power

Yingluck left as Deputy CEO of IBC in 2002, and became the CEO of Advanced Info Service (AIS), Thailand's largest mobile phone operator. After the sale of Shin Corporation (the parent company of AIS) to Temasek Holdings, Yingluck resigned from AIS, but remained Managing Director of SC Asset Co Ltd, the Shinawatra family property development company. She was investigated by Thailand's Securities and Exchange Commission regarding possible insider trading after she sold shares of her AIS stock for a profit prior to the sale of the Shin Corporation to Temasek Holdings. No charges were filed. Yingluck Shinawatra is also a committee member and secretary of the Thaicom Foundation. [Source: Wikipedia]

Yingluck received 0.68 percent of Shin Corp shares out of the 46.87 percent that Thaksin and his then wife held in 1999. The military junta-appointed Assets Examination Committee charged that Yingluck made up false transactions and that “there were no real payments for each Ample Rich Co.,Ltd shares sold” and “the transactions were made at a cost basis of par value in order to avoid income taxes, and all the dividends paid out by Shin to those people were transferred to [her sister-in-law] Potjaman's bank accounts”. However, the AEC did not pursue a case against her. Yingluck in returned claimed “her family has been a victim of political persecution”. [Ibid]

Yingluck Shinawatra, the Red Shirt Demonstrations and the Pheu Thai Party

After the Pheu Thai Party was formed in December 2008 Yingluck was asked to become the leader of the party but she declined, stating that she did not want to be Prime Minister and wanted to focus on business. US diplomatic cables leaked in 2011 revealed that during a September 9, 2009 meeting, former Deputy Prime Minister and "close Thaksin ally" Sompong Amornvivat told Ambassador to Thailand Eric John that he did not envision a big role for Yingluck in the Pheu Thai Party, and that "Thaksin himself was not eager to raise her profile within the party, and was more focused on finding ways to keep his own hand active in politics." However, in a subsequent cable dated November 25, 2009, the Ambassador noted that in a meeting with Yingluck, she spoke with confidence about the "operations, strategy and goals" of the Pheu Thai party and seemed "far more poised" than in previous meetings. The cable cited Yingluck saying that, "Someone could easily emerge relatively late in the game to take the reins of the party and serve as the next Prime Minister." [Source: Wikipedia]

Yingluck's bank account was among 86 bank accounts that the Abhisit government accused of being used to fund Red Shirt protesters during their demonstrations in 2010. However, the government did not pursue any legal case against her. The Department for Special Investigation found that from April 28, 2009 to May 2010, 150 million baht was deposited into one of her accounts while 166 million baht was withdrawn. On 28 April 2010 alone, 144 million baht was withdrawn. [Ibid]

When Yongyuth stated his intention of resigning as party leader in late 2010, the frontrunners for party leadership. The front runners were Yingluck and Mingkwan Sangsuwan, who had led the opposition in an unsuccessful motion of no confidence against the Democrat Party-led coalition government. As late as January 2011, Yingluck continued to rule out the party leadership, repeating that she wanted to focus on business. However, she was endorsed by veteran politician Chalerm Yubamrung. In May 2011, the Pheu Thai party voted to name Yingluck as the party's top candidate under the party-list system (and presumably be the party's nominee for Prime Minister) for parliamentary election scheduled for July. However, she was not made party leader and she did not join the executive board of the party. The ultimate decision was made by Thaksin.

Yingluck and Thaksin

Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post, “Yingluck said she speaks with her brother, who is 18 years her senior, by telephone “quite often” but denied that he is orchestrating her campaign. She said that Thaksin “gives some good ideas” but that “I decided myself” to run for election and “he supported this.” Her opponents scoff at such assertions. “Why did she go into politics?’’ said Kraisak Choonhavan, deputy leader of the ruling Democrat Party. “She is probably one of the richest women in Asia. She has it all, so why go through this? Because big brother asked her to.’’ [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, June 13, 2011]

Yingluck’s campaign leaflets boast of Thaksin’s role: “Thaksin Thinks, Pheu Thai Does,” reads a party slogan. Thaksin, in a recent interview with Australian television, described his sister as his “clone.” Yingluck said this doesn’t make her Thaksin’s puppet but means only that they share “the same logical thinking. . . . He taught me on the business side. If he says one word, I understand how he thinks.” [Ibid]

Like her billionaire brother, Yingluck is skilled at connecting with Thais at the opposite end of the economic and social scale. She promises credit cards for farmers, debt relief and better health care. “Just because you have money, it doesn’t mean you don’t understand” poor people, she said. She also appeals to business, promising lower corporate taxes and a high-speed rail network. Kraisak acknowledged that Yingluck was running a good campaign and had made things “very difficult” for his Democrat Party’s electoral chances. Her brother, he added, “is relentless.” [Ibid]

Thaksin once famously boasted that Yingluck was his "clone". In an interview he said: "Some said she is my nominee. That's not true. But it can be said that Yingluck is my clone... Another important thing is that Ms Yingluck is my sister and she can make decisions for me. She can say 'yes' or 'no' on my behalf." Her party's election slogan was "Thaksin thinks, Puea Thai acts".

Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters wrote: “ When pressed, her advisors admit she speaks to Thaksin, although they're coy about how often. "She consults a lot of people," said Suranand. Big brother is influential, agreed Thailand scholar Duncan McCargo, but Yingluck is no meek proxy making decisions on his behalf. With cabinet appointments, for example, her refusal to "reshuffle on demand" and accept all Thaksin's choices showed Yingluck setting her own agenda, he said.” She also “deployed her formidable charm to soothe relations with her divisive brother's opponents in the establishment, particularly the military that had removed him from office. [Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall, Reuters, January 29, 2014]

Yingluck Shinawatra as Prime Minister of Thailand

As prime minister Yingluck formed a coalition government with four smaller parties: the Thai National Development Party, the National Development Party, the Palung Chon Party and Mahachon Party, which collectively won 32 seats. The coalition gave Yingluck 299 seats in the 500-seat parliament, which she said was enough to provide “sufficient stability” for the government. She said one of her first goals was national reconciliation.

In her first policy speech Yingluck pledged to boost the economy and strive for reconciliation. She vowed to tackle Thailand’s drug and human trafficking problems but was short on specifics. Earlier she said she would back off from populist promises of higher wages and higher rice prices for farmers because she did not want to generate inflation but would accelerate telecom reform and privatization of state assets to make the economy more efficient and stimulate long-term growth.

The Bangkok elite and Bangkok-dominated media mocked her good looks and criticized many of the things she did. The Thai newspaper The Nation, for example, accused Yingluck of being a Cinderella, saying, in reference to her handling of the 2011 floods, she “smiles directly into the calamity of the kingdom as if it were a nuisance to the party she is enjoying.” Prominent journalist Wassana Nanuam was heard telling listeners on FM101 that the Army was keeping some tanks in the capital "just in case" it needed them for another putsch. In October 2011, a hacker broke into Yingluck’s Twitter account, and ended eight postings with the taunting message: “If she can’t even protect her own Twitter account, how can she protect the country? Think about it? A short time afterwards, the university students that hacked the account, 22-year-old Ekkavit Tongdeeworakul, was arrested.

Yingluck Shinawatra and the Flooding in 2011

Yingluck was criticized for her “disappointing performance” in handling the flood crisis in 2011. Some even called for the Army to intervene. According to The Nation: “At a time when millions of Thais are still suffering from the floods, the Cabinet held a secret meeting to deliberate on a royal decree to give ousted ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra a pardon. This was part of the shock-and-awe strategy to bring Thaksin back and allow him to regain official control over the country. (See the Floods Under Nature)

Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters wrote: “Her first big test was the devastating floods that engulfed swathes of Thailand's central plains and Bangkok soon after she took office. She was widely criticised for mismanaging the disaster, and pilloried on social media for wading through flooded areas in luxury rubber boots. But according to her cousin Chaisit, a retired general, the disaster helped Yingluck forge good relations with the Thai military. Flood-relief was part of the military's effort to repair its image after a bloody crackdown on pro-Thaksin protesters in 2010. "They worked together for the people during the floods, and that's why they understand each other better," said Chaisit, likening the relationship to two friends bound together by a life-changing experience. Before, he said, "the prime minister and the army sat at different tables". [Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall, Reuters, January 29, 2014]

Yingluck Shinawatra in 2012 and 2013

In May 2012, on the anniversary of the bloody crackdown on the Red Shirts in 2010, Red Shirts took to the streets, demanding revenge and justice for what happened in 2010. The protesters were angry with Yingluck for not taking more action on the matter. Yingluck minister had been reluctant to take such a move out of concern it would inflame divisions within Thailand. About 20,000 participated in the protest, which ended peacefully after blocking an intersection near a shopping mall that was the scene violence during the 2010 protests.

In June 2012, Yingluck introduced legislation that was largely seen as the first step in granting amnesty to Thaksin and paving the way for his return to Thailand. The legislation—a government-backed reconciliation bill to grant amnesty to all parties involved in political violence from 2005 to 2010—was not welcomed by the opposition which organized street rallies. In parliament a female lawmakers dragged the speakers chair from the podium, prompting a scuffle among parliament members. In the meantime the five year ban placed on Thaksin and his associates from engaging in politics ended.

In November 2012, Yingluck easily survived a no-confidence vote in parliament by a margin of 309 to 159 following a debate over her governments’ rice-pledging scheme and flood management budget. The vote came after a three-day censure debate and four days after thousands of protesters called for the overthrow of the government because of corruption. The opposition Democratic Party alleged widespread corruption in a rice-pledging scheme in which the government paid farmers higher than market prices and irregularities in the flood management budget.

Supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin want to amend the present Constitution, drafted by a military junta following the 2006 coup. Bruce Gale wrote in The Straits Times: “ The Yingluck government sees it as anti-democratic. Proposed changes include a return to a fully elected Senate, increased provisions for amnesty, and limits on the power of judicial and independent bodies to scrutinise elected politicians. The yellow shirts are opposed to all of these changes, saying any attempt to amend the Constitution would potentially weaken the monarchy. The government also seems to have little inclination for reconciliation. This can be seen in the crackdown on yellow-shirt protesters in November and the murder charges brought against former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in December. [Source: Bruce Gale, The Straits Times, February 6, 2013 ><]

Yingluck’s Rice Pledging Scheme

In 2011, the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra introduced the controversial Government Rice Pledging Policy in which rice farmers are promised a higher than market-price for their rice crop to increase their income. Under the scheme, Thai farmers are given up to $500 for every ton of rice they produce. The rice is deposited in warehouses run by government procurement agencies, who are in charge of selling the rice or storing it.

According to Associated Press, “Thai governments have intervened in the rice market through a variety of means since the early 1960s to help farmers, but the current scheme has its roots in the populist policies of Yingluck's brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who won landslide victories in two elections before he was ousted in a 2006 coup. The scheme has been dogged by corruption and accusations the government has hidden its true cost. Previously, officials refused to reveal how much rice the government had stockpiled.

In October 2012, Xinhua reported: “Despite strong criticisms, Thailand's innovative rice pledging scheme is likely to continue at least for the time being as the Thai people, especially the farmers, continue to support the program. [Source: Surasak Tumcharoen, Xinhua, October 8, 2012^]

“Former agriculture minister Prapat Pothasuthon confirmed that the farmers would prefer to deposit their rice with the Public Warehouse Organization or the Marketing Organization for Farmers and receive as much as 15,000 baht (500 U.S. dollars) a ton rather than sell to the private traders who offer to buy at a lower price. Former Commerce Minister Wattana Muangsook explained that the government's rice program is not a monopolistic business because, he said, the private rice traders or millers could always compete by offering to buy at a higher price. "The rice pledging program is practically a market intervention measure whereby the farmers are assisted in dealing with the traders who usually buy their rice at a relatively low price," Wattana said. ^

Criticism of Yingluck’s Rice Buyback Scheme

The rice subsidies have been widely criticized for high costs and knocking the country from its spot as world's top rice exporter. Rice, Thailand's staple grain, is one of the country's main exports. India and Vietnam surpassed Thailand as the world's top rice exporters in 2012 as the Thai government stockpiled rice to avoid even bigger losses.

Generous subsidies for farmers have left Thailand with vast stockpiles of rice and a bill that it has a hard time paying off. Opposition leaders say the scheme is mired in corruption, costing the taxpayers and estimated at 200 billion baht ($6 billion) a year and fueling anger towards Yingluck.

William Pesek of Bloomberg wrote: “ Moody’s Investors Service says the subsidies damage Thailand’s credit rating. Granted, the program isn’t bankrupting Thailand. The country’s $346 billion economy can handle the $4.4 billion the government blew on rice purchases last year. [Source: William Pesek, Bloomberg, July 11, 2013]

In October 2012, Xinhua reported: “ The government's rice program, introduced in last year's electoral campaign of the ruling Puea Thai Party, has been openly criticized by some academics and members of the opposition Democrat Party. Members of the opposition have filed a complaint with the country's Constitutional Court seeking a definite ruling on whether or not the program has violated the Thai constitution. Whatever ruling the court would issue, it would certainly make an impact on the regular rice harvests later this year and early next year. [Source: Surasak Tumcharoen, Xinhua, October 8, 2012^]

“Though Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has not talked much about the rice program, she had earlier suggested that critics should go directly to the farmers and ask them if they have benefited or not from the program. The petitioners, including lecturers and students of the National Institute of Development Administration led by Adit Isarangkul na Ayudhya, dean of the Economic Development Faculty, charged that the pledging program is undermining the free market and turning the government into a monopolistic trader.The government has not only failed to uphold the free-trade principles but competed against the Thai private sector in the global rice markets, they said. ^

“Thai rice has become not very competitive against the rival rice from Vietnam and India since its costs have largely increased due to the government's rice pledging program, according to the academics. Democrat MP Ong-ard Klampaibul alleged that the $25 billion rice program was also prone to corruption and quoted a member of a House committee as saying that an estimated one million ton of rice bound for export has remained unaccounted for so far. Other academics, however, have aired solid support for the Yingluck government's rice program because, according to them, it was primarily designed help the country's more than 8 million rice farmers. Thammasat University's law lecturer Punthep Sirinupong said the government could pursue the "populist scheme" since it has been proven that it benefits the country's rice farmers. Thousands of rice farmers in central, northern and northeastern regions of the country have recently gathered peacefully in front of their provincial halls in support of the government's rice program. ^

Tear Gas Fired at Anti-Yingluck, Yellow Shirt Protesters

In November 2012, an anti-government protest calling for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down was staged in Bangkok that authorities feared could grow into the biggest demonstration the country has seen since she took office. AP reported: “The rally, which was expected to draw tens of thousands of protesters, was mostly peaceful in its early stages. Police, however, fired tear gas to disperse between 50 to 100 people who tried to break through a line of concrete barricades erected on a street near the protest site. [Source: AP, November 24, 2012]

Earlier in the week, Yingluck ordered nearly 17,000 police to deploy and invoked a special security law, citing concerns that the rally could turn violent. She also accused demonstrators of seeking to overthrow her elected government. The demonstration underscores the still-simmering political divisions that have split the country since the army toppled Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra in a 2006 military coup. [Ibid]

The protest was organized by a royalist group calling itself "Pitak Siam" — or "Protect Thailand." Led by retired army Gen. Boonlert Kaewprasit, the group accuses Yingluck's administration of corruption, ignoring insults to the revered monarchy and being a puppet of Thaksin. Addressing several thousand protesters on the rally's central stage on Saturday, Boonlert vowed the demonstration would remain peaceful. But he said: "I promise that Pitak Siam will succeed in driving this government out." He then led the crowd in a chant: "Yingluck, get out! Yingluck, get out!"

The rally was being held at Bangkok's Royal Plaza, a public space near Parliament that has been used by protesters in the past. Police allowed protesters into the site, and two roads leading to it were open. But in an effort to control access, security forces erected concrete barriers on another road leading to Royal Plaza. When between 50 to 100 protesters tried to break through one of the barriers, a contingent of around 500 police fired tear gas and beat them back with batons.

While Pitak Siam is a newcomer to Thailand's protest scene, it is linked to the well-known "Yellow Shirt" protesters, whose rallies led to Thaksin's overthrow. The same movement later toppled a Thaksin-allied elected government after occupying and shutting down Bangkok's two airports for a week in 2008. Yingluck took the rally seriously. Her Cabinet invoked the Internal Security Act on Thursday in three Bangkok districts around the protest site, and she later addressed the nation to explain the move, citing concerns of violence.The security act allows authorities to close roads, impose curfews and ban use of electronic devices in designated areas. Measures began taking effect Thursday night, with police closing roads around Yingluck's office, the Government House, and placing extra security at the homes of senior officials, including the prime minister. In a nationally televised address Thursday, Yingluck said protest leaders "seek to overthrow an elected government and democratic rule ... and there is evidence that violence may be used to achieve those ends."

Foreign Policy Under Yingluck Shinawatra: Obama gets Flirty with Yingluck

Yingluck went to China in mid-October 2011 on her first overseas trip outside ASEAN as prime minister. Around the same time Yingluck was criticized for shaking hands with President Thein Sein, the leader of Myanmar’s military regime, but failing to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi.

In November 2012, U.S. President Barrack Obama traveled to Thailand and met with Yingluck. Associated Press and the Daily Mail reported: “President Obama is practicing a new brand of foreign relations, appearing to flirt with Thailand’s attractive prime minister on his first stop of his three-day tour of Southeast Asia. The president and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could be seen laughing together and exchanging playful glances through a state dinner at the Government House in Bangkok on Sunday. And just hours later, Obama jetted to Myanmar, where he was pictured lavishing affection on Aung San Suu Kyi. [Source: Associated Press and Daily Mail, November 18, 2012]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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