BANGKOK (Reuters) - With charisma, star appeal and promises of populist giveaways, Yingluck Shinawatra was a powerful weapon for Thailand’s opposition party and is set to become the country’s first woman prime minister just six weeks into her political career.
Yingluck’s Puea Thai party looked set for a landslide win in Sunday’s election, marking a stunning turnaround in fortunes for a party in disarray and stigmatized for its links to her exiled billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a twice elected premier despised by Thailand’s elite and ousted in a 2006 coup.
The 44-year-old businesswoman has earned rock-star status, capturing the hearts of the millions of working class Thais loyal to her brother, a tycoon seen as the only Thai premier who sought to boost the livelihoods of the millions of rural poor beyond Bangkok’s bright lights.
For hours after exit polls indicated a Puea Thai win, her supporters were rapturous, screaming and chanting her name in anticipation of a Shinawatra political dynasty taking shape.
“Prime Minister Yingluck,” chanted hundreds of people crammed into the party’s Bangkok headquarters. “Landslide, landslide,” others shouted in English.
Yingluck has promised to revive Thaksin’s famous populist policies and raise living standards, vowing to pursue reconciliation to end Thailand’s bloody six-year political crisis without seeking vengeance for her brother’s overthrow.
“I’ll do my best and will not disappoint you,” she told supporters after receiving a call of congratulations from her brother.
Her late entry on to the scene came with a political marketing blitz, with mass rallies and carefully choreographed speeches. Posters of a smiling, suited, Yingluck were erected everywhere from bustling Bangkok intersections to the rustic villages of the impoverished northeast.
Thaksin remains a divisive figure, loathed as much as he is loved, and has drawn sharp criticism for calling Yingluck his “clone.”
But Yingluck’s supporters do not seem to care and believe she will bring something of her own to Thailand, if she becomes Thailand’s first prime minister since it became a democratic country 79 years ago.
“She’s beautiful, she’s clever, she’s kind,” said Thanida Permsombat, a computer technician from Bangkok
“She has the ability to make everything better again. Now, Thailand can have real change.”
Supporters thronged the corridors of Puea Thai headquarters and scores of photographers and cameraman battled to catch a glimpse of Yingluck’s first news conference since Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded defeat as fireworks exploded on the streets outside.
She refused to comment on when Thaksin might return from exile. Puea Thai had no amnesty policy, she said, and it would be up to independent panels to decide, with no special arrangements for one man only.
There is little doubt Yingluck was the catalyst for Puea Thai’s victory, but a rocky road lies ahead for as long as Thaksin casts his shadow over Thai politics.
“Yingluck was the big factor in this win. She didn’t make any mistakes, she stuck to the script,” said Eurasia Group analyst Roberto Herrero-Lim.
“She has been an impressive stand-in for Thaksin, but what happens next is the big issue. What are Yingluck’s real plans regarding her brother?”
As for Thaksin, he said in Dubai he had no immediate plans to return.
“When I decide to return, it should help contribute to the process of reconciliation, not making myself part of its problem. If my return is going to cause problems, then I will not do it yet. I should be a solution, not a problem.”
Editing by Nick Macfie