Thailand braces for uncertain future

A year after violent clashes left more than 90 people dead and drove a divisive knife through Thai society, the country today goes to the polls for an election that could cause yet more turmoil and confrontation. It could also deliver Thailand its first female prime minister.

Reports suggest that up to 170,000 police officers have been put on duty to protect polling stations across the country. A total of 42 parties are contesting the contest that will decide the direction of the country on a number of crucial issues for the next four years.

If the outcome of the contest was being decided simply on the basis of who had the most arresting campaign poster and catchiest catchphrases, then former brothel tycoon Chuvit Kamolvisit might fancy his chances.

The man who once ran the country's largest prostitution network and who now leads his own party on an anti-corruption ticket, stares out of posters that read: "Politicians are like nappies – you have to change them." Mr Chuvit said this week that many of Thailand's problems were too tough and difficult to be confronted by people who "go to bed early". "A guy like me goes to sleep late," he said. "When you are dealing with crminals, you need some people who have experience of crime."

As it is, for all Mr Chuvit's enthusiasm and self-confidence, the election has come down to a clash between the incumbent prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, his Democrat party, and Puea Thai (PT), the party funded and led by former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr Thaksin's younger sister, Yingluck, a businesswoman with no former direct political experience, is the party's candidate for prime minister and has been heading the campaign.

Yesterday, the 44-year-old Ms Yingluck concluded a month of electioneering with a tour through various Bangkok neighbourhoods, standing up in a bright red jeep. She waved, smiled and held her finger aloft to signify No 1, her party's number on the ballot papers. After a morning that had taken her through narrow lanes, past canals in the city's old quarter and then a tour on foot through a weekend market, the candidate stopped for lunch at a restaurant located next to a park. Among the items served to her and her group was larb, an intensely spicy mixure of minced pork and lime juice that is particularly popular in the north-east of Thailand, where her party's support is particularly strong.

Before hitting the road again, Ms Yingluck told the Independent on Sunday that if her party is successful it will have two major challenges: reuniting the country and addressing what she said was a growing gap between the rich and poor. Last year, dozens of "red shirts", many of whom support Mr Thaksin, were killed in clashes between protesters and troops in the centre of Bangkok. For many the memory of that occasion remains raw.

"I have experience with business. I think people need someone who has [that experience] and deal with the problems of the country," she said.

Yingluck and her party have proposed a populist agenda of a higher minimum wage, lower corporate taxes and free laptops for children, while still trying to lower debt levels. She said this could only be done by boosting GDP. "If you have more money you feel better and are not suffering and fighting with each other."

On the crucial issue of whether her party will grant an amnesty to her brother to allow him to return, she said it would be wrong to have such a policy for just one person. Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and now lives in exile in Dubai, remains a divisive personality. "The rule of law is for everyone. We have to have a process that [provides] fair treatment for everyone," she said, explaining that the party wanted to continue the work of a truth and reconciliaiton body set up by the Democrat party.

While opinion polls, which stopped one week ago, have given a clear lead to her Puea Thai party, many observers believe that neither Ms Yingluck or Mr Abhisit will be able to win a clear majority of 251 seats. As such, the decision could depend on which party is most effective at reaching out to other political groups. Ms Yingluck said Puea Thai was ready to work with any party that shared her views.

There are some, even within her party, who believe that the rival Democrat party may be best placed to secure a coalition. Previously, the army has stepped in behind the scenes to help the Democrats. Pithaya Pookaman, Puea Thai's deputy spokesman, said it was effectively all or nothing. "We have to try and win a majority," he said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride