SUSAN STAMBERG, Host:
Elections today in Thailand, and an apparent landslide victory for the opposition party, which means that Yingluck Shinawatra will be Thailand's first female prime minister. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Bangkok about an election with a sense of political deja vu.
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ANTHONY KUHN: Thai music blasts from a sound truck as villagers in red shirts listen to speeches and eat spicy local cuisine. The residents of Baan Suksomboon in northeast Udon Thani province are here to declare that this is a red village, organized in support of opposition candidate Yingluck Shinawatra. But the faces on the campaign posters here are not Yingluck Shinawatra's. They belong to Thaksin Shinawatra, her older brother, who was ousted as prime minister in 2006. Anont Saennan, a provincial red shirt leader, explains.
ANONT SAENNAN: (Through Translator) Since the first red village was created, we've made it clear that we want Thaksin to come back and govern the country as prime minister.
KUHN: Saifon Jettabootr, a former chicken farmer, says her participation in politics began with Thaksin. Her farm went under in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. She says that Thaksin gave farmers debt relief, easy credit and healthcare with co-payments of just one dollar per treatment.
SAIFON JETTABOOTR: (Through Translator) Before Thaksin, we didn't care about politics or who governed us, but then the economic crisis sent prices for gas, education and everything soaring. When Thaksin became prime minister, he helped us, so we saw that we should pay attention to politics.
KUHN: Thaksin served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006. His policies helped to revive Thailand's economy and were hugely popular in many rural areas. But he was accused of corruption and ousted by a military coup. If Yingluck wins the election, she could grant her brother amnesty, but incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva warns that Thaksin masterminded the red shirt protests, which paralyzed Bangkok last April and May. They ended in a military crackdown and 91 deaths.
ABHISIT VEJJAJIVA: (Through Translator) I don't think see that amnesty would lead to any reconciliation. I've talked to many Thais and the majority of them say they will not allow a corrupt fugitive or people who created unrest in this country to whitewash their misdeeds.
KUHN: Observers are concerned that this election will do little to break Thailand's cycle of elections, street protests and coups. Thailand's top general said Thursday that the military will not stage a coup no matter who wins the election. But he has suggested that Yingluck's party leaders are disrespectful to the Thai king. The army leveled the same charges at Yingluck's brother when they deposed him.
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YINGLUCK SHINAWATRA: (foreign language spoken)
KUHN: At her final campaign rally, Yingluck Shinawatra carefully pointed out that she does not oppose the institution, the monarchy.
SHINAWATRA: (Through Translator) Some people accuse me and my party of having ill intentions towards our country and the institution. That hurts my feelings because it's not true. But I won't debate with them to get votes. Instead, I'll govern this country with my heart and my intellect.
KUHN: Yingluck is a 44-year-old businesswoman with no previous political experience. Kan Yuenyong, executive director of the Bangkok think-tank Siam Intelligence Unit, says that Yingluck is an outsider to the establishment, the monarchy, the military and the bureaucracy which have traditionally monopolized political power.
KAN YUENYONG: In order to run the country, you need to know how you can negotiate with the army, how you can negotiate with the top elite of the society, maybe even the palace. Maybe she needs more assistance on this.
KUHN: Assistance, which Kan predicts, Yingluck is likely to get from her brother Thaksin. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Bangkok.
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