Yingluck Shinawatra, from business to politics

She led her party to landslide victory, but then her tenure was mired in corruption charges and allegations of being a political novice

Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/© Gulf News
Gulf News

Yingluck Shinawatra became Thailand’s first female prime minister when she led the Pheu Thai party to victory in the July 2011 general election. She remained in the post for nearly three years, until the Constitutional Court forced her to step down in early May 2014 after finding her guilty of abusing her power.

Weeks later, the military seized power and suspended the constitution, saying it was necessary to restore order after months of entrenched protests against Shinawatra’s government.

Then things got worse. On January 23, 2015, the military-picked legislative assembly voted to impeach Shinawatra for dereliction of duty over a controversial subsidy scheme which paid farmers above market rates for rice.

‘Puppet’

Yingluck Shinawatra, a former businesswoman, was following as prime minister in the footsteps of her more famous brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.

She led Pheu Thai to a landslide victory in the July 2011 election, a year after violent protests on the streets of Bangkok.

Before the poll, Shinawatra, who has two degrees in politics, had never run for office or held a government post.

She had until then pursued a corporate career, formerly as managing director of AIS, the telecommunications firm her brother founded, and managing director of SC Asset Company, a family firm involved in property.

Critics were quick to point out her political inexperience, saying her main qualification appeared to be the fact that she was the youngest sister of Thaksin, the billionaire who was ousted as prime minister by the military in 2006 and jailed in absentia for corruption.

They suggested her primary role was to marshal the Thaksin faithful — the mainly poor rural voters who kept him in power — and then serve as his proxy as he governed from overseas exile.

Shinawatra performed well on the campaign trail — people seemed to warm to her.

Speaking to the BBC after her election win, Shinawatra said she planned to work hard. People would trust her, she said, as long as the government preserved the rule of law and treated people fairly. “As long as we solve problems, I hope Thai people will give me a chance to prove myself and show my sincerity.”

Three months later, she faced her first challenge as parts of Thailand were hit by severe flooding.

More than 500 people died in the north of the country and a fifth of the capital ended up under water, forcing her government to announce a 100-billion baht (Dh10.4 billion) recovery plan amid accusations it had been unprepared.

In early 2012, her government approved a compensation fund for victims of recent political unrest — allocating 2 billion baht to families of the deceased, as well as those who were hurt or “unfairly detained”.

Shinawatra was also seen to establish cordial ties with two key institutions, the royal palace and the military.

But a rice subsidy policy, whereby her government bought rice from farmers at above market rates to boost rural incomes, hit Thailand’s rice exports hard. Her opponents said the programme was rife with corruption and many farmers were left out of pocket.

Snap poll

It was, however, a political amnesty bill that provided the trigger for protests which foreshadowed Shinawatra’s fall from grace.

Her government proposed legislation allowing amnesty for those convicted of political violence that took place after the coup that ousted her brother, including the mass street protests that paralysed Bangkok in 2010.

It proved unpopular with some of her traditional supporters, who argued it would allow those responsible for the deaths of civilian protesters in 2010 to go free.

But it sparked opposition fury, amid fears the ruling party would use it to allow Thaksin Shinawatra back into Thailand without having to serve his jail term.

And the firm conviction among opposition supporters that Shinawatra’s government was controlled by her brother caused some to erupt on to the streets in protest.

Shinawatra appealed for calm — and allowed the amnesty bill to fail in the Senate. But that did not appease the protesters, who demanded that her government be replaced with an unelected “people’s council”.

The government’s decision to call a snap election for February 2 also failed to quell anger. The ruling party was expected to win the election and the opposition boycotted the polls, which were then declared unconstitutional.

Fresh elections were announced but the opposition called for them to be delayed and a referendum on reforms to be held.

Then the courts stepped in and removed Shinawatra over the transfer of her national security chief. Weeks later, the military ousted what was left of her government, leaving Thailand once again under military rule.

In January 2015, Thailand’s military government banned Shinawatra from politics and proceeded with criminal charges that could lead to her serving 10 years in jail — a major double blow to the powerful Shinawatra clan.

The decision made Yingluck the first premier in Thailand’s history to be impeached and relates to a hugely popular but deeply troubled government scheme to pay rice farmers double the market price for their crop, a policy believed to have incurred losses of around £10 billion (Dh45.8 billion).

The ban prevents Shinawatra from participating in politics for five years, a move analysts say is nothing more than an attempt to keep her — and Thaksin — away from polls that have won them, or their affiliates, every election in the past decade.

The double blow was no real surprise to Shinawatra or her supporters, who claim the military has been continually chipping away at the Shinawatra power base for years in a desperate bid to consolidate its own hold over Thai politics.

Shinawatra-backed parties are hugely popular among the Thai public and have won every single election since 2001. Unbeatable at the polls, the parties have, however, suffered a series of judicial defeats: about 150 Shinawatra-linked politicians have been banned from politics in the past 10 years, among them four prime ministers.

Shinawatra has disputed the charges against her and claimed, as other members of her ousted cabinet have done, that the scheme had helped boost the economy and gave farmers the chance of a better life.

The ninth child born to the Shinawatra family, Yingluck has two degrees in politics — one undergraduate degree from the northern city of Chiang Mai, her family’s power base, and a masters from Kentucky State University in the US.

Born on June 21, 1967, in the northern province of Chiang Mai, she is married to businessman Anusorn Amornchat and has one son.

Sourced from BBC.com and The Guardian.

This column aims to profile personalities who made the news once but have now faded from the spotlight.

What she said:

“In terms of the principles of politics, I think I understand well. Thailand needs someone who has leadership, who has the management skills to help the country.”

“Right now the problem in Thailand is we have high debt, but we don’t know how to earn the new source of revenue back to Thailand. This is my job.”

“I will repeat again that females are the symbols of nonviolence. Another thing I would say is that a female is more compromising. A female can talk with anyone easily.”

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