Will Thailand have a female prime minister?

Warning: sizeof(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/whatcro0/public_html/wp-content/plugins/ssg-wordpress-google-audio-player/ssg_google_audio.php on line 85

Warning: sizeof(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/whatcro0/public_html/wp-content/plugins/ssg-wordpress-google-audio-player/ssg_google_audio.php on line 85

Warning: sizeof(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/whatcro0/public_html/wp-content/plugins/ssg-wordpress-google-audio-player/ssg_google_audio.php on line 85

Warning: sizeof(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/whatcro0/public_html/wp-content/plugins/ssg-wordpress-google-audio-player/ssg_google_audio.php on line 85

Yingluck ShinawatraThe news that Yingluck Shinawatra, younger sister of deposed Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra, is about to go head-to-head in the duel for the Thai premiership with Abhisit Vejjajiva is interesting for a few reasons. The most obvious is that Thailand has never had a female prime minister. Looking around the Western world, most countries haven't had female leaders. The one that springs to mind, for obvious reasons, is Margaret Thatcher. When one views Southeast Asia as a region, however, a slightly different story emerges, and when South Asia is also taken into account, notable patterns emerge that might help us see why having Yingluck as the top candidate on Pheu Thai's list is a shrewd move in the run up to polls on July 3.

At first glance, Yingluck doesn't appear to be prime minister material and, indeed, a recent ABAC poll was telling in this respect:

Mr Abhisit was beaten by Ms Yingluck, one of Pheu Thai Party's would-be candidates for the premiership and the younger sister of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in one area _ wealth and business achievements.

[Abhisit] outperformed Ms Yingluck in temper control (53.7%-9.7% ), politeness (50.1%-13%), domestic and international recognition (49.6%- 11.3%), good conduct (49.6%- 9.8%), kindness (48.2%-13.1%), leadership (48.1%-12.9%), ability (47.9%-10.9%), political ethics (46.9%-11%), vision (46.8%- 15.2%), sacrifice for the country (44%-11.9%), honesty (42.9%- 10.3%), fairness (41.4%-10.6%), decisiveness (40.1%-19%) and problem-solving (38.8%-14.3%).

Looking at those stats at face value, it's hard to imagine how Yingluck could make a serious bid for the top spot. But if patterns in nearby countries are anything to go by, the above stats might not make a difference, particularly as Pheu Thai's campaign unravels.

Ms Yingluck has a strength that lies in her feminine, gentle qualities, her ability to coordinate and reconcile and her image as a successful businesswoman. The party can campaign for her as the country's first female prime minister and observers feel this would draw the support of many voters. (Bangkok Post)

Thailand is going through something of a (potential) democratic transformation. The coup in 2006 was a major blow for liberal democracy in the Land of Smiles and the past five or so years have seen elite power struggles play out with little regard for Western democratic values. The forthcoming election is a major test for Thai democracy and given how undemocratic the past five years have been, this could be a turning point, and leading the charge will be Yingluck.

At this point I'm tempted to draw comparisons with Aung San Suu Kyi, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Megawati, three women who have either led their respective countries or the main opposition parties in those countries at chaotic times, acting as potential agents of change under repressive regimes. One thing they all have in common is a family connection, either with a national hero or a figure regarded as a symbol of freedom. Yingluck's brother, Thaksin, is a hero to millions in Thailand, most notably the rural poor who benefited from Thai Rak Thai's populist policies. Even Thaksin's infamous War on Drugs was extremely popular in-country. Tens of thousands of red shirt protesters have gathered at various points during the past few years in the hope of Thaksin making a return.

Suu Kyi, Wan Aziah and Megawati have overcome gender stereotypes in their respective countries by appealing to non-violence, democracy, peace and motherliness. More importantly, each of those women more or less fell into politics with no prior experience, so it therefore shouldn't be seen as a hindrance that Yingluck can't compete with Abhisit in that respect. If anything, it's an advantage, and given the violence that erupted in the streets of Bangkok last year, if ever there were a perfect time for an angel-faced symbol of non-violence to emerge, it's now.

At times of chaos, Southeast Asian voters have typically shown that they favour the moral, calming symbols of women as leaders. Yingluck is going to do near exactly the same as those before her. All four women are like non-political, non-threatening advocates of “his” cause. Yingluck is like the ultimate symbol of nostalgia for a large percentage of Thailand's population.

She fits the stereotype of the region's female leaders. She is from an elite background, she has strong feminine qualities, she is educated, she is a potential agent of change, people will listen to her because of her family ties and she will likely be a timid leader. What's unique in the Thai case is that Thailand is split roughly down the middle on whether or not to accept a Thaksin-led party leading the nation. Thaksin is still very much in the picture, unlike Aung San or Sukarno, although Anwar Ibrahim was still in the frame when Wan Aziah was opposition leader.

Other female leaders who we may wish to draw comparisons with, particularly in terms of family ties, common characteristics, backgrounds and suchlike, include Corazon Aquino, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Indira Ghandi, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, Khaleda Zia, Benazir Bhutto. I'm not saying that Yingluck is any better or worse than these women, but my point here is that I would not be surprised if Yingluck becomes incredibly popular, especially in the countryside, and goes on to play a significant role in Thailand's near future. The Bangkok population, however, will likely not welcome Yingluck with open arms.

Yingluck will portray herself as fighting to secure justice for, and upholding the honour of, self-exiled Thaksin, just as Suu Kyi did for Aung San, Megawati did for Sukarno, Wan Aziah did for Anwar and so on. I'm not for one minute suggesting that Thaksin should be compared to Aung San and the like, but the point remains that Thaksin is revered by a great many people who would welcome his return.

It's also worth noting that there is something of a collective memory of prominent female rulers in South and Southeast Asia that supports the argument that it's not unfathomable for these countries to be led by women in the modern era. We might also consider that at certain points, certain conditions in society are met that favour female leadership. Historically, as today, these female rulers act as a counterweight to the tyranny of male rulers. In this case the "tyrant" is, ironically, Abhisit, and not Thaksin. We therefore shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking that having a female leader in Thailand is excessively far out of the ordinary and that it in fact might be the most logical conclusion from this point on.

In many ways, it would be a positive for Thailand to have its first female prime minister, but we should be under no illusion that this is not simply the next move by Thaksin in his drawn-out bid to regain power and return to his home country. Furthermore, female rulers in South and Southeast Asia have not typically done much to develop women's rights in their respective countries, so don't get too excited about the prospects of gender issues being pushed forward.

Whether or not Yingluck's candidacy will be enough to overcome animosity held towards "radical United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) running on Puea Thai's party ticket" is another question, but there is certainly the potential for her presence to be a game changer not only because she is Thaksin's sister.

Also, a quick note on how the election system works:

With the constitutional amendments, the total number of members of the House of Representatives will increase from 480 to 500 in the July 3 general election. The country’s electoral system for members of the House of Representatives is also changed from a multi-seat constituency to a single-seat constituency system, with a seat apportionment formula of 375 single-constituency MPs and 125 MPs from a single nationwide proportional representation instead of multiple lists for each electoral district.

Social media buttons:

5 thoughts on “Will Thailand have a female prime minister?

  1. … and she is beautiful which immediately gives her extra qualifications to be a PM! (as you well know!)

  2. Dear Yingluck

    Do the best you can at home, not eslewhere or America. I mean it done. it is can be done for the Government of Thailand, I see good for ENRICHMENT in milkshke, call Yacool in Thailand, very sweet Chinese Melody. What is your size, I mean your BREAST and your TUMMY…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *