Tue, Aug 02, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Thailand opens new parliament, faces tough challenges


Thai prime minister-elect Yingluck Shinawatra of the Puea Thai Party gestures to media as she arrives at the parliament before the inauguration ceremony of the National Legislative Assembly in Bangkok yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Thailand’s new parliament was to officially open yesterday, faced with the daunting challenge of bringing stability to the kingdom after five years of political turmoil.

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn was to preside over the opening ceremony in Bangkok late yesterday afternoon, the palace said, allowing the 500-seat lower house chamber to get to work later in the week.

Within days, MPs are expected to vote in the country’s first female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra of the Puea Thai Party, which on July 3 won a crushing electoral victory to take power from the pro-establishment Democrats.

Yingluck will take the helm almost five years after her brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a military coup. He now lives abroad to escape a jail term for corruption.

Thai academic Pavin Chacha-valpongpun said 44-year-old Ying-luck, who is widely seen as a proxy for her brother, had shown surprising charisma since her electoral success and could become “a very capable prime minister.” However, he said the challenges facing the prime minister-elect, a political novice, are formidable.

“I think the honeymoon period of Yingluck will be very short. She has so many obstacles in front of her,” said Pavin, of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Thailand’s political landscape became increasingly polarized following the 2006 coup, with other Thaksin allies removed from power by the courts and paralyzing rallies by both pro and anti-Thaksin camps.

They culminated in mass demonstrations by his “Red Shirt” followers in Bangkok in April and May last year, which ended with a military assault and more than 90 people dead. Thaksin is wanted on terrorism charges linked to the unrest.

Yingluck is expected to face pressure from the Red Shirts, many of whom support Thaksin for his populist policies during his 2001-2006 rule. They are likely to demand justice over last year’s violence and push for their leaders to be given key positions.

The new government will also need to appease those among the Bangkok-based elite who backed Thaksin’s ouster and believe his style of leadership was authoritarian and corrupt.

Economic concerns have been raised over the potential impact of Yingluck’s vote-grabbing promises, such as a hike in the minimum wage that the Bank of Thailand has warned could stoke inflation.

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