Newly elected Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday outlined her government’s policies in a parliamentary debate that may show whether she can escape the long shadow of her self-exiled brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
In a televised two-day debate, Thailand’s first female prime minister and her government are set to face tough questions over their populist programs and ties to Thaksin, a billionaire former telecommunications tycoon overthrown in a 2006 military coup who lives in Dubai to escape a jail term for corruption.
Yingluck, a 44-year-old political novice barely known to the public four months ago, said her priority was to stabilize the economy and boost incomes with policies ranging from corporate tax cuts to debt relief for farmers, village development funds, lower fuel prices and tablet PCs for 800,000 students.
“We will administrate the country with honesty and efficiency to bring the country toward prosperity, reconciliation and justice,” she said during an address.
That may be easier said than done.
She has faced a turbulent two weeks in office, bombarded by questions about a possible amnesty or constitutional amendments that would help Thaksin return home without going to jail — a prospect that could trigger legal challenges and revive an anti-Thaksin protest movement.
The debate offers her a chance to assert her independence and shake criticisms she is a mere stand-in for her brother, who transformed Thai politics by courting the poor and scoring landslide election wins in 2001 and 2005, before he was felled by corruption charges he says were politically motivated.
Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Thaksin dismissed assertions his sister was a simple proxy and said he would not meddle in her government.
“She has her own right and leadership to run the country ... Whenever she needs advice, she calls me, I give her advice, that’s all,” Thaksin said. “I act like an encyclopedia ... she can feel free to open it, she can close it any time. That’s it.”
Asked about his possible return, he said he would hold off until Thailand’s rival political factions find peace.
“I don’t want to fuel any more conflict. I just want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem,” he said.
Thaksin is at the heart of a polarizing five-year crisis marked by sometimes violent street protests in a conflict that broadly pits Thaksin, his business allies and his mostly lower-class “Red Shirt” supporters against the army’s top brass, a conservative elite and a royalist, urban middle-class.
About 400 Red Shirts massed outside parliament in support of Yingluck as about 100 rival anti-Thaksin protesters gathered to submit a letter to the house chairman urging him to ensure the government does not amend the Constitution or craft policies that benefit the Shinawatra family.