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Yingluck Shinawatra Elected Thailand's First Female PM

Thailand's new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gives a Thai traditional
Thailand's new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gives a Thai traditional "wai" greeting at parliament in Bangkok, Aug. 5, 2011

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The Thai parliament has elected Yingluck Shinawatra, to be the country's first woman prime minister during a special session of the House of Representatives. The rookie politician’s first challenge is to ensure stability with the selection of a new Cabinet and making good on election promises.

Yingluck, a 44-year-old former businesswoman, was elected Friday as the nation’s 28th prime minister during a special session of the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont announced the outcome of the vote in the House chamber - 296 to 3 with 197 abstentions.

Video footage of parliament vote

What lies ahead?

Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party commands 265 seats in the 500 member House of Representatives, with coalition partners lifting the government’s hold on the chamber to 300 seats. Her election comes a month after national elections led her Pheu Thai Party to victory.

Party leader Yongyuth Wichaidith, said Friday that public confidence in the government resides in its ability to deliver policy programs.

“It depends on us. If we can work to the best of the people and to the well being of the people and the security of the nation it means it’s OK. It depends on us, not depend on [any] other factor,” said Yongyuth Wichaidith.

Key challenges

But analysts say Yingluck faces key challenges as she prepares to oversee a new administration. She is the younger sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives in exile because he faces a two year jail term for corruption in Thailand.

Media reports say both Thaksin and his former wife, Pojaman na Pombejra, are said to be closely advising Yingluck on selecting Cabinet members.

Thaksin remains a divisive figure in Thailand’s political landscape. The urban middle class had accused him of abuse of power and human rights abuses while in office.  

His popularity was built on populist economic policies while in power.

Red Shirt movement

Over the past two years Thaksin supporters, led by the ‘red shirt’ movement staged protests against the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, that saw the worst political violence in 20 years and dozens killed in clashes with security forces. But the red shirt movement also played a key role in Pheu Thai Party’s election win and is pressing for Cabinet posts.

Outgoing government leader, the Democrat Party’s Abhisit, said the new government needs to urgently address national problems as well as help avoid a return of political extremism in the country.

“We will continue to be a responsible and constructive opposition. But it’s now in the hands of the government and I cannot speak for them - particularly the need to strike a balance - which I recognize of accommodating their base - the red shirts and making sure the country doesn’t go down an extreme path,” said Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Campaign promises

Sunai Pasuk, the Thailand-based representative for Human Rights Watch, says although her party has a strong position in parliament, Yingluck faces the challenge of delivering election platform promises such as higher minimum wages and prices for rice farmers.

“In economic terms, in the provision of social welfare and all these issues will come back to challenge the integrity and credibility of the government. So if there is anything that may challenge the stability of the Yingluck government it is her own policy promises - whether her government can fulfill those promises or not. That will be a major test for her to face,” said Sunai Pasuk.

Yingluck will announce her Cabinet in the coming days before the full list of officers is forwarded to the Thai King for endorsement, enabling the new administration to sit down to work.

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