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Ousted Thai Leader's Sister Becomes Prime Minister

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Ousted Thai Leader's Sister Becomes Prime Minister


Ousted Thai Leader's Sister Becomes Prime Minister

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Thailand has its first woman prime minister. She's a 44-year-old businesswoman who has never held elective office. She does have a family connection to politics: her brother was prime minister until he was ousted in a military coup five years ago. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Bangkok.

ANTHONY KUHN: With careful coaching, Yingluck Shinawatra has avoided making any gaffes. She's come across as a plainspoken populist, not as a policy wonk or an establishment insider. She earned a master's degree from Kentucky State University and has since been president of the country's largest mobile phone operator. She told reporters that she would first work to deliver on her Puea Thai party's campaign pledges.

Ms. YINGLUCK SHINAWATRA (Prime Minister-Elect, Thailand): The first thing that I want to do is, of course, I have to do whatever Puea Thai promise on the campaigns. And the first thing that we, of course, we have to help people on the economics problems. That's our first priority.

KUHN: Her policies are similar to those of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006. Yingluck has promised tablet computers for school children, subsidized rice prices for farmers and high-speed rail for travelers.

Dr. Benjarong Suwankiri is a senior economist at Thailand's TMB Bank. He says that Yingluck and her party have a limited window of opportunity before they have to cut back on their spending.

Mr. BENJARONG SUWANKIRI (Senior Economist, TMB Bank): The economic policies offered by the Puea Thai Party focused a lot on short-run stimulus, something that Thailand doesn't really need right now, because the economy has already moved out of the recession and right now the economy is stabilizing with inflation edging up.

KUHN: Despite allegations of corruption, Yingluck's brother Thaksin is one of Thailand's most electorally successful politicians ever.

Professor Andrew Walker is a Thailand expert at the Australian National University in Canberra. He says that the Thai military is less likely to stage a coup this time, not just because the electorate has spoken clearly, but because the last coup only helped to strengthen Thaksin and his supporters.

Professor ANDREW WALKER (Australian National University): I think the military will realize that to attempt to subvert this electoral result yet again would be, in a sense, trying stop the course of recent Thai political history, and that course has certainly been very much in favor of Thaksin and his political allies.

KUHN: Walker says Yingluck will have to be especially careful about granting amnesty to her brother, as this could prompt a dangerous backlash from the military and political establishment.

Motorcycle taxi driver Virachai Poodphroa is waiting for a fare, not far from where Red Shirt protesters torched glitzy department stores last year in violence that left more than 90 people dead. He says he worries that Thailand's bureaucrats and generals will not accept having a female prime minister.

Mr. VIRACHAI POODPHROA (Motorcycle Taxi Driver): (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: If it was up to me, I'd just accept the opinion of the majority, he comments. We'll just have to see if those in power are men enough to do that.

Thailand has weathered 18 coups since the end of its absolute monarchy in 1932. This is one of the clearest electoral outcomes ever, and Thailand's stability now rests on whether all sides can just let it stand.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Bangkok.

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