A Hero with dirty hands by Anya Palm

4. Jul 2011

Friday was the first time for many Thais to hear Yingluck Shinawatra speak in public. The lady, who by the looks of all polls, is going to be Thailand’s Prime Minister by Sunday, has never really spoken to followers before, and the audience for Friday’s speech came to see “what kind of person she is”, as one of the redclad supporters explained.

In a stadium in the outskirts of Bangkok on Friday, she yelled her message in a high pitched and indignate voice, and the response from the crowd was ear deafening. “PUEA THAI! PUEA THAI!”

The fact that she has had to do absolutely nothing – not even speak to her voters – says more about the Thai political situation than anything else.

In Thailand, a young woman running for Prime Minister would have exactly those two things against her. In a country where age equals experience, obviously a young candidate has much to prove. And she is going to be the first female Prime Minister Thailand has ever had. In a patriarchic society like Thailand that would constitute as a major concern. Logically, Yingluck Shinawatra would have spent every waking minute of her campaign assuring that those two things are not issues.

She didn’t and she didn’t have to. Because Yingluck Shinawatra is not running for PM in Thailand; Her big brother is.

Thaksin Shinawatra was couped from power in 2006. Having been in office for five years, and winning four elections in a row – a record in Thailand – the former “CEO” of Thailand has spend the years since then falling out with the elite, the monarchy and the army, and thus, today, he is a fugitive with an arrest order hanging over his head, if he ever returns.

That is, however, not as unfortunate as it sounds. Thaksin’s opposition to the power elite and their continued attempts to keep him out of politics, spotlights his agenda of breaking up the tight grip those three groups – army, rich elite and monarchy – has on the Thai democracy.

They run the country with little attention to the voice of the voters and the everyday problems, the citizens of Thailand struggle with. They run the country, not because they are elected to, but because with their good education, high ranks and superior social statuses, they are naturally entitled to. It is nobody’s place to tell them differently, and particularly it is not common people’s place, be it in vote form or otherwise. Despite the obstruction of rights and equality for the people in this construction, this is not an uncommon view for Thai people, particularly in the older generation.

In that respect, Thaksin Shinawatra stands for democracy in a Western definition – his leadership will be one, where the voice of the people will be heard and where politics to better the situation for the citizens of Thailand will be a priority. He has proven that already, and for that, he has almost endless support. There is just one catch:

He is a complete crook. Voting for Little Sis will also be voting for a man, who has much focus on making himself richer in such a scale that it cannot be defended in any way.

While he was Prime Minister, he made numerous state funded contributions to companies owned by friends and family, several of his relatives were elevated in rank, and the premiership had a direct positive effect on Thaksin Shinawatra’s personal bank account.

Voting for a sincere, democratic candidate, whose sole interest is to be as good a Prime Minister as he or she can be, is not an option in Thailand.

So really, while celebrating Yingluck’s victory, Thai people need to start asking themselves:

How big of a crook is Thaksin Shinawatra really? Because the way the dice landed, Thai democracy is in large part dependant on the answer.


Anya Palm,
freelance journalist based in Bangkok, NIAS associate