Winning was easy, the real test for Yingluck starts now

Winning was easy, the real test for Yingluck starts now

AFTER the splendid, if predictable, election result in Thailand last week, there is a sense of calmness and optimism about the future.

The stock market has risen and regional neighbours have expressed relief and even joy at the defeat of the current government.

And rightly so, for it had no true mandate, having come to power through military influence dating back to the September 2006 coup.

Led by the Democrat Party, its election manifesto, arguably the shortest suicide note in political history, essentially rested on one claim: we are not the other guys.

The other guys, of course, were led by a businesswoman, Yingluck Shinawatra, 44, who proved to be a natural campaigner and made Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva look like a stumblebum.

Yingluck and her Puea Thai Party are backed financially and ideologically by her brother, the fugitive former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

This is not unusual. Abhisit, too, hails from one of Thailand’s richest and most influential families, as do many other politicians.

Let’s face it, Thailand sits at the heart of a region where, from Singapore to Phnom Penh, nepotism is an accepted way of life.

Rich young dauphins are regularly injected into positions of power by family patriarchs; but few prove as born to the role as Yingluck.

So let us give credit where credit is due: this was Yingluck’s victory. She is a breath of fresh air and deserves to be prime minister.

Now comes the hard part.

She must deal delicately with her supporters who seek justice for their Red Shirt colleagues and who want an amnesty for her brother, whose corruption conviction they say was politically motivated.

Secondly, she must do what the Democrats abjectly failed to do, and tackle the festering problem of Thailand’s shortage of manual workers.

The absurdly restrictive rules on hiring foreign labour must be relaxed, as must the xenophobic provisions against non-Thai stakeholders in local companies.

Lastly, she must forge a working relationship of mutual trust with the centres of unelected power – the military, the civil service and the business elite and its powerful backers.

In this, she will be helped not only by being a woman, but by being one who is willing to compromise and tolerate criticism, unlike her thin-skinned and autocratic brother,

Most importantly, she has the indisputable support of a clear majority of Thais. The coalition she has forged now controls 300 of the 500 parliamentary seats.

She will also be helped by the disarray among the Democrats, who will soon be sitting on the opposition benches.

They mounted an abject campaign, which, even with the help of a biased media, never took off.

Abhisit, flanked by arrogant young Turks like Sirichok Sopha and venal veterans like Suthep Thaugsuban, ran almost entirely on the anti-Red Shirt slogan: remember what they did.

Many did remember – they remembered the carnage when Abhisit’s puppet-masters sent in the troops.

And they remembered, as Amnesty International’s Benjamin Zawacki put it, that: “More than a year on, no security forces have been held to account for the deaths on Bangkok’s streets.”

Abhisit has rightly offered to step down as party leader, and if the Democrats have any sense, they will let him go.

Meantime, since they cannot prevail at the ballot box, they are trying to get Yingluck’s party disqualified on the flimsy grounds that banned politicians were involved in its campaign.

This tawdry move echoes those football managers who never admit defeat, but instead stand by and accuse the victors of cheating and castigate the referee for not being firm enough.

It won’t work. And it is the height of hypocrisy from a party that itself only recently escaped disqualification on a dubious technicality when charged with misuse of state funds and an illegal donation.

No, despite dire warnings to the contrary, the election has shown that democracy is alive and well in Thailand. And it has delivered the best result possible.

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