The Nation

Yingluck Shinawatra could take Pheu Thai leadership

Yingluck Shinawatra, the youngest sibling of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, has emerged as a leading candidate for the premiership among key figures of the opposition Pheu Thai Party.

The 43-year-old business executive and mother appears to have the backing of veteran politician Chalerm Yoobamrung and her brother Thaksin, who is believed to be pulling the strings behind the main opposition party and providing it with funding.

Yingluck holds no official executive post in Pheu Thai but it is no secret that she has considerable influence in the party, acting as a link between its politicians and Thaksin, who is known as the party's "big boss" and de-facto leader.

Thaksin, whose government was overthrown in the coup of 2006, has lived overseas after leaving the country in 2008 and escaping a two-year jail term by the Supreme Court for conflict of interest.

Pheu Thai MP Mingkwan Sangsuwan, who led the opposition's onslaught during last week's censure debate, caused a stir in Pheu Thai when he announced during his closing speech on Friday night that he would be the party's candidate to contest the premiership against Abhisit, the Democrat Party leader.

Many Pheu Thai figures said afterwards that the party had not decided yet about its PM candidate. Some added that the final decision would be made by Thaksin himself.

Yingluck, despite her lack of political experience, is likely to prove a more unifying figure than Mingkwan, who has been openly opposed by party colleagues like Chalerm.

Having been rejected as Pheu Thai's PM candidate, Chalerm said he would quit the party if Mingkwan was nominated but would review his decision if it was Yingluck.

As Thaksin's sister, the selection of Yingluck would likely end wrangling among the party's key figures over who should be the candidate. Her choice will also assure the party's politicians that Thaksin is serious about financing it.

For Thaksin, picking his own sister as candidate is better than favouring "outsiders" who do not always do what he wants, according to political observer Paisal Phuetmongkon, a former member of the post-coup National Legislative Assembly.

Political scientist Surachai Sirikrai from Thammasat University said Thaksin had learned "some bitter lessons" trusting people outside his family to make political moves on his behalf.

The academic said that as Pheu Thai's PM candidate, Yingluck could be projected as Thaksin's trusted representative when campaigning to his loyal supporters, particularly those in the North and Northeast.

On Sunday, Thaksin sent out Twitter messages outlining nine qualities for prime minister. In addition to general qualifications like being humble, kind, courageous and democratic, the ex-premier said the person should be experienced at running a large organisation.

Yingluck was president of Advanced Info Service, the country's largest mobile-phone network operator, before it was sold to Singapore's Temasek Holdings. She is now president of SC Asset, a family business.

On the negative side, the selection of Yingluck would confirm that the party is closely connected to Thaksin and that he has final say in all key matters regarding the party - including its PM candidate or party leader.

Voters who are convinced that Thaksin was behind the political turmoil over the past two years may shun Pheu Thai and shift their support to its competitors instead.

One possibility is that although she could be picked as PM candidate, she is unlikely to become the next party leader - or even to hold any executive party post. Thaksin had learned an expensive lesson from his own experience and that of his brother-in-law, former premier Somchai Wongsawat. As party executives, they were banned from politics for five years after their parties were dissolved by court order for electoral fraud.

Pheu Thai's politicians will have to decide on their party's priority - whether it is to please the "big boss" or to serve the interests of their constituents in particular and the country in general.

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