Saturday, July 16, 2011

She WON!!! (Didn't she?)

Last week, Thailand elected its first female prime minister. The question is whether she'll ever take office.

She was elected rather resoundingly.  In a country where the prime minister is "officially" named by the legislature, Yingluck's party won 270 seats out of a total 500 and immediately announced coalition arrangements with five other parties to bring the total up to 300.

We in the West are used to the presidential party winning a majority, or at least a substantial plurality, of the vote, but in modern Thailand NO prime minister ever went into office with an actual majority until 2005, when Yingluck's brother, Thaksin, was re-elected by a landslide.

But, of course, Thaksin was overthrown in a coup and when two of his sympathizers were elected to succeed him, the Thai power elite simply deposed them and purchased enough legislators to vote their own prime minister in.

At that point the people, wearing red shirts, took to the streets to demand the government they'd elected.  More than ninety men and women, including an unarmed nurse, were killed in the military response to the riots.

Three days ago, the Election Commission, which was appointed by the same elite that overthrew Thaksin, refused to certify Yingluck's election until "complaints" were investigated.  That means she's not prime minister yet.  One "complaint" was about an event in which she helped a food vendor cook on a public street and then handed out food.  This is being soberly interpreted as "vote buying."

There are other, potentially less risible complaints, and the Election Commission was careful not to certify the election of some of the opposition leaders, either -- if they hadn't, there probably would have been instant riots.  They've said they'll certify or reject candidates in batches as they investigate the complaints, beginning as early as next week, but this delay has a lot of people on edge.  There's already talk of a "judicial coup" even before Yingluck takes office.

I honestly believe there will be hell to pay if that happens.

And even if she is ultimately certified, there are those other little problems -- the succession to the throne, for one, and the continuing series, in the South, of murders committed by Islamic extremists.  Despite the solidarity suggested in this photo of a scarf-wearing Yingluck with a Muslim supporter, almost 5000 Thai Buddhists have been killed by Islamists in the past few years.  This  month alone -- just a little more than halfway through July -- there have been eight of these murders.

And then, there's the unremitting hostility of the traditional power elite, who will ceaselessly search for ways to bring her down.

Should she eventually become prime minister, Yingluck will have her hands full.


  1. Fascinating to read, frightening to live.


  2. If she finally does take office, it seems that her term might be frighteningly short.

    Is part of the Muslim antipathy based on her gender. A woman in red is a beacon personified for all the Bedouin requirements that a woman be a non-person outside and, in some families inside, the home.

    Zoe Ferraris lived in Saudi Arabia. I read her first book, FINDING NOUF, that describes the lives of women in some of the wealthiest families in the kingdom. Sisters are non-persons to their brothers and just a chip in the marriage stakes for their fathers.

    How do Muslim women fare in the Land of Smiles? If they, too, are smiling, no one can see it. If they are crying, no one can see that either.

    Radical Islam seems to take no prisoners. As Jeff posted, frightening to live.

  3. Good post Tim. I'm hoping for the best but sadly fearing the worst.

  4. Hi, folks --

    Yes, Jeff, things are a little tense in the Land of Smiles these days.

    Beth, there was a short-lived Muslim insurrection movement in the South in the 60s or 70s, but the King involved himself in the reconciliation process: more mosques were built, discriminatory laws overthrown. By and large, Buddhists and Muslims have gotten along very well in Thailand, but in the past few years the spirit of militalt Islamic fundamentalism has found a home among (probably a very small number of) Thai Muslims, and/or outside agitators have come in to stir the pot.

    And very few Muslim women are veiled in Thailand. Once again, until very recently, there's been almost no friction. What upsets me is that the English-language press, and especially the lily-livered Bangkok Post, will NOT run stories about this -- not even letters to the editor - while they continue to give weekly column space to two Islamic apologists. I'm not saying those columns shouldn't be printed, just that a modicum of honesty be displayed somewhere in the paper.

    Dan, this is kind of a surprise -- most people were predicting a hypocritical honeymoon while the elite looked for any sign that she'd made a mistake they could use to unseat her. Most people think she'll be certified and that this is just a way of rattling bones at her as intimidation

  5. It takes a lot of courage to do what she has done. It is hard not to despair of good times for these people.

  6. I agree, Lil, although I think they'll eventually find a way. The Thais are very independent -- Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized -- and sooner or later they'll draw a line in the sand and not move when they're told to. I do actually wish I had more faith in Ms. Shinawatra and her handlers, but she's the candidate the people wanted, and she's the candidate they should get.