Thailand elects first woman prime minister
Shinawatra family fortunes rise with landslide victory
NOISY celebrations erupted in the centre of Bangkok yesterday as Yingluck Shinawatra stormed to a comprehensive electoral victory, putting her on track to make history as Thailand's first woman prime minister.
At the offices of the Puea Thai (PT) party, hundreds of red-shirted supporters cheered, danced and chanted her name as the news slowly sank in that the party controlled and funded by her divisive brother -- former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- had secured nothing short of a landslide.
"Sisters and brothers, please do not just treat the voting results today as the PT party's victory. It is your kindness to allow me and the Puea Thai party to serve your interests," the 44-year-old businesswoman told a televised press conference, having received a telephone call of congratulation from her brother, who lives in exile in Dubai.
While a number of observers believed PT would emerge as the party with the highest number of votes, many questioned whether they would be able to secure a simple majority in the parliament. As it was, with more than 98pc of the vote counted, PT had 264 of a total of 500 parliamentary seats, compared with 160 for the ruling Democrat party.
Ms Yingluck said PT had already reached an agreement with one smaller party, Chart Thai Pattana, about joining a coalition, and was in negotiations with others.
Little more than four hours after voting finished at 3pm, incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded defeat. "I want to see unity and reconciliation," said the British-educated Mr Abhisit.
Yesterday's result represents a huge turnaround for the fortunes of Mr Thaksin, who was ousted from office in 2006 in a military coup and subsequently convicted in absentia over conflict of interest issues.
He was sentenced to two years in jail and has remained overseas to avoid going to prison. It was his decision, little more than a month ago, to appoint his younger sister, a graduate of Kentucky State University in the US, as the party's prime ministerial candidate.
While Ms Yingluck had no direct political experience, she threw herself into the campaign and spoke confidently of her business experience. The party campaigned with a clutch of populist policies, including lower taxes and a higher national minimum wage.
It is just 15 months since the centre of Bangkok was rocked by bloody clashes between government forces and anti-government protesters, many of them supporters of Mr Thaksin. More than 90 people were killed, almost all of them civilians, and hundreds more were wounded.
Indeed, even now some of Ms Yingluck's most senior advisers remain cautious and fear her victory could be challenged, if not immediately, then in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, there is much speculation that Mr Thaksin will return to Thailand.