The woman set to become Thailand’s first female prime minister sought to seize the momentum today, securing an agreement with coalition colleagues in order to bolster her party’s mandate and starting work on what she hopes will become her flagship policies.
A day after her Peau Thai (PT) party secured a landslide win, Yingluck Shinawatra announced she would form a five party coalition that would control 299 seats of the 500 in the country’s parliament. Officials said the move was taken to bolster her government’s appeal and to guard action possible interference from the military or her political opponents.
“The expectation is high. We have to get things done as quickly as possible. We are not going to enjoy a grace period,” said the party’s deputy leader, Kanawat Wasinsungworn. He said although PT had won a simply majority, it had been decided to reach out to coalition partners in case there were challenges to the legitimacy of some of those elected. “We need stability,” he added.
By broadening the base of its support, PT will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2006 military coup which saw Ms Yingluck’s brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, forced from power and driven into exile. Since 1930, the military has led 18 such coups.
Today, a military commander who is close to those officers involved in the 2006 coup, told Reuters that the army had no such plans. “I can assure that the military has no desire to stray out of its assigned roles,” said General Prawit Wongsuwan. Ms Yingluck may not be greatly relieved by his comments; in 2006 another general gave similar assurances just months before it seized power.
The party headed by the 44-year-old businesswoman has said its priorities will be introducing a series of economic stimulus measures and working to reconcile a still divided nation. Mr Kanawat said the party also had plans to help benefit the rural working class, among whom PT has secured much of its support. Indeed, an election map printed in Thailand’s The Nation newspaper showed a country neatly split between the red of PT in the north and north-east and eastern Bangkok, and the blue of the Democrat party in the south and western Bangkok.
In the village of Nong Jok, where new housing projects have come up amid paddy fields and grazing cattle, Malee Pungchalern explained why she supported PT. “I am very excited. I think we will see some changes… I believe in Thaksin. He is talented,” she said. “This is a victory [for us] because the rich people in Bangkok have money and Thaksin’s policies may not support them as much.”
While PT and Thakin’s support among the rural classe is often talked of, this community west of Bangkok reveals rural communities are themselves changing. Lee Lawadee and her family moved here four years ago and bought a three-bedroom house in a pastel-coloured gated community. She said affordable healthcare schemes introduced by Mr Thaksin when he was prime minister had helped her family and her friends while Ms Yingluck’s plan to introduce a minimum monthly wage of 15,000 baht (£300) for graduates would benefit her son.
Both Mrs Lee and Mrs Malee said they hoped Mr Thaksin would soon return to Thailand. But PT officials, wishing to avoid triggering controversy before they have even formally formed the government, stress that is not a priority for them and say it would be unfair to introduce an amnesty just for one person.
Mr Thaksin has said he is happy in Dubai for now. However, in a comment that may he a sign-post of potential problems ahead, he said he wanted to attend the wedding of his daughter, due to be held in Thailand in December. Speaking from the Middle East, he said: “That is just a wish. Many wishes do not come true. That will depend on the amnesty.”