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Special Report

Will patience pay in the long run?

Though Yingluck appears to be asserting her independence, Thaksin too seems to be willing to do anything to return

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is believed to be pulling the strings behind the ruling Pheu Thai Party, once described his sister Yingluck as his "clone". But over her past 22 months in power, Prime Minister Yingluck appears to be working hard to shed that image.

Yingluck, who turns 46 today, has resisted many of Thaksin's ideas and even refused her big brother's choice of aides and advisers. This has led to conjecture of a rift between the siblings.

A ruling party source said it was not unusual to see Yingluck asserting her independence. Her trusted aides are people of the same age who understand her, even though they are less experienced and have less ability than the advisers chosen by Thaksin.

However, Thaksin does not trust some of his sister's aides because they abandoned him after the September 2006 coup. Yet, the source said, one of the advisers chosen by Thaksin admonished Yingluck publicly.

In addition, Yingluck's confidantes have refused to take heed of the advice offered by advisers chosen by Thaksin, which has resulted in a growing crisis of confidence in the government. These issues include the Bt2-trillion loan for infrastructure projects, the baht's rapid appreciation and the loss-making rice-pledging scheme, which have opened the government to attack from the opposition.

Suranand Vejjajiva, the PM's secretary-general and one of Yingluck's trusted confidants, said the PM is sincere and apolitical.

"Yingluck is not a politician. I think this is a good quality, considering the current situation. The minute she qualifies as a politician, her sincerity will fly right out the window," he said.

Yingluck has more patience than her brother in running the government, even if it means having to step back sometimes, he said. "Thaksin is hot-headed and wants to see immediate results. Yingluck steps back while advancing too. She waits patiently and never gives up," he said.

Neither Thaksin nor older sister Yaowapa Wongsawat have tried to influence Yingluck in running the government, Suranand said. Though, he added, it was normal for siblings to seek advice from each other. "Even I have sought advice from the former PM sometimes," he said.

Meanwhile, Thaksin's legal adviser and spokesman, Noppadon Pattama, said there was no need for Yingluck to abandon her image as Thaksin's clone because it was natural for siblings to be similar.

After all, he said, Yingluck was riding on the coat-tails of Thaksin's popularity.

Yet, after almost two years in office, Yingluck has shifted from being "a former prime minister's sister who became a prime minister" to "a prime minister who happens to be a former prime minister's sister".

He said Yingluck is self-reliant and possesses strong leadership skills, though he denied that she is in conflict with Thaksin because of that.

Apirak Kosayodhin, deputy leader of the opposition Democrat Party, agreed that Yingluck was trying to outgrow her image of Thaksin's clone.

He added that attending international forums and portraying herself as an effective leader was possibly part of this attempt.

Yet, the prime minister appears to be keeping herself aloof from the government's problems. Her usual excuse is that Cabinet members should be responsible for these matters. However, many issues have become serious because the ministers overseeing them are inefficient.

"The prime minister seems to have done almost nothing herself. There are teams responsible for various matters, including economic and political ones," Apirak said.

Plus, some government policies appear to have had unfortunate side-effects. The rice-pledging scheme, for instance, is plagued by irregularities. The tax rebate for first-car owners has been causing severe traffic jams and the hike in minimum daily wage to Bt300 has been blamed for the escalating cost of living.

Yet, both Suranand and Noppadon agreed that Yingluck's gentle style of running the government made her the "best choice" in the current political situation, and with her improved leadership skills, the government will stay alive and kicking.

Apirak disagreed. He said the government's popularity was on the decline and that it was facing a barrage of problems, including corruption, rising cost of living, acts of intimidation by government supporters and disputes between certain red-shirt groups and the ruling party.

As the government heads for the second half of its term, Thaksin has instructed Pheu Thai politicians to go all out on controversial political issues involving the amnesty law and constitutional amendment.

Critics say the hidden agenda behind these moves is to bring Thaksin back home without the need to spend time in jail. Obviously, Thaksin believes high risk brings big rewards. Yet, his sister prefers to "play it safe".

Apirak said that though Yingluck appeared to have become stronger after two years in power, her longevity as government head also depends on what Thaksin wants his loyal politicians to do to bring him back home.

Eventually, the prime minister will have to decide whether she will "play it safe" or "take the risk". She will have to choose between her big brother's dreams and her own political future.


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