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Thai Election Commission Postpones Certifying New Prime Minister

A woman uses her mobile phone to take a picture of Prime Minister-elect Yingluck Shinawatra as she addresses reporters at her party's headquarters in Bangkok, July 13, 2011.

A woman uses her mobile phone to take a picture of Prime Minister-elect Yingluck Shinawatra as she addresses reporters at her party's headquarters in Bangkok, July 13, 2011.

Thailand's Election Commission has delayed certifying the election victory of both Prime Minister-elect Yingluck Shinawatra and the former leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, because it says it is still looking into complaints of irregularities in the vote.

Ms. Yingluck is playing down the decision, but it is just one in a series of challenges she faces before forming a new government.

Voter fraud

Thailand’s Election Commission has been investigating complaints of irregularities and fraud in the July 3 vote and postponed endorsing the victory of the 44-year-old Pheu Thai Party leader, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Ms. Yingluck, and defeated incumbent, Abhisit Vejjajiva, are among more than 140 candidates for the 500-member House of Representatives whose victories have not been certified.

Unofficial results indicate Ms. Yingluck’s party gained 265 seats in the vote. She said Wednesday that she remains confident the commission would endorse her election, adding that such delays are normal.

The Pheu Thai Party’s success rested on populist policies, including pledges to double the minimum wage to $10 a day, raise prices for rice crops, increase funds for village development programs, provide low-cost health care and give tablet computers to school children.

Can Yingluck govern?

Political analysts say the endorsement delay is only one of several challenges facing the businesswoman, who has never held political office before.

Surat Horachaikul, deputy dean of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Political Science, says questions remain over Ms. Yingluck’s capacity to manage the government, and what role her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, will play.

“How Yingluck would govern the country? So would she handle the power with and without her brother [Thaksin]. This is also a very big question how would she do it? How would she handle the demand of different factions of the Red Shirts that support her? We can now see also for labor what would like to have 300 baht a day as a minimum wage."

Her brother was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in exile in Dubai to evade a jail term for corruption, but he remains a dominant force in Thai politics.

After the coup, Mr. Thaksin helped create the United Democratic Front against Dictatorship or Red Shirt movement to support his efforts to return to power.

The Red Shirts, with strong support from low-income rural workers in northeastern Thailand, held massive anti-government protests in 2010 that crippled Bangkok.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University, says Ms. Yingluck's government should avoid alienating the Red Shirts.

“If Pheu Thai does not go far enough or does not sufficiently address their aspirations and their suffering we could see the Red Shirts going in a different direction," Pongsudhirak says. "If they do not form a political party then they will continue to organize from the grassroots, from the bottom-up, in disparate ways and could become an anti-establishment, full-bloodied anti-establishment, which in the long term is not healthy.”

But Thai manufacturers have already warned that the plan to double the minimum wage could raise inflation, driving up costs for both domestic consumers and exporters.

Politicians stalled

For now, politicians are waiting for the election commission to certify the vote.

It is required to endorse at least 475 of the 500 candidates for the new parliament to begin working in early August.

If the commission does not certify a candidate's victory, the Constitution Court then decides if the candidate should be disqualified. But in the past, the election commission has never failed to certify top candidates.