Wed, Aug 10, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Yingluck takes office with unity pledge

RECONCILIATION:Thailand’s new prime minister faces a tough challenge to reunite the country in the wake of violent clashes last year between the army and protesters

AFP, BANGKOK

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra pays respect as she receives the royal command appointing her as the country’s new prime minister in front of a portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Puea Thai party headquarters in Bangkok on Monday.

Photo: Reuters

New Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra officially took office on Monday with a vow to reunite the troubled nation after years of turmoil following the overthrow of her fugitive brother.

Yingluck, a 44-year-old political novice, was elected as Thailand’s first female prime minister in a parliamentary vote on Friday, but had to complete formalities, including official approval by King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

“His Majesty the King has given his endorsement,” Thai House Speaker Somsak Kietsuranont said after an audience with the 83-year-old monarch, who has been in hospital since September 2009.

Yingluck swept to an election victory last month with the support of her elder brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is loathed by the elite in government, military and palace circles, and was toppled in a 2006 coup.

Bhumibol, who has reigned for more than six decades, is seen as a stabilizing force in the troubled country, but has no official political role.

Yingluck, a businesswoman described by her brother as his “clone,” faces the tough challenge of bringing unity to the politically volatile kingdom.

“It is a great and challenging responsibility which requires the participation and support of all sectors to overcome problems and move the country forward,” she said in an acceptance speech at her party headquarters.

“I will use my knowledge, competence and intellect to work hard with honesty to bring peace, unity and reconciliation to our nation,” she added.

Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon, lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail sentence imposed in his absence for corruption.

His overthrow by the army heralded five years of political crises both in the Thai parliament and on the streets, where his elite-backed foes and his mainly working-class supporters have held crippling rival protests.

The situation escalated last year when more than 90 people, mostly civilians, were killed in clashes between the army and “Red Shirt” protesters, who largely support Thaksin for his populist policies while in office.

Thaksin or his allies have won the most seats in the past four elections, but the courts reversed the results of the last two polls.

Thailand has also seen 18 actual or attempted military coups since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

Yingluck has formed a six-party coalition, holding three-fifths of the seats in the lower house of parliament, in an attempt to bolster her hold on power.

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