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Daily Israel Report

The Shinawatras Score a Political Comeback in Thailand

Yingluck Shinawatras, sister of the exiled Thaksin Shinawatra, won in a majority in the Thai elections.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 7/4/2011, 6:41 PM / Last Update: 7/4/2011, 11:52 PM

Thailand and Turkey both have recently staged elections. The points of similarity are interesting. In both countries, the elections pitted an establishment urban elite against the periphery and rural elements over a battle for power. In both countries, military intervention in politics has been an issue. There are major differences but the similarities are intriguing.

Yingluck Shinawatra,and her Pheu Thai won a majority in Sunday's elections in Thailand, making her Thailand's first female prime minister. The party victory did not equal the landslide proportions predicted by the exit polls and the rival Democrats captured most of the seats in Bangkok.

However, Pheu Thai received a sufficiently solid majority to discourage the military from intervening as it did back in 2008 when it helped to oust the government backed by Thaksin Shinawatras, the exiled brother of Yingluck. As one financial analyst put it in finance speak “[Puea Thai] won an absolute majority in the general election; we believe this should remove any political risk premium capping upside potential" or in plain English if you invest in Thai securities you don't have to worry as much about a military coup.

Again as in Turkey the courts are considered part of the old establishment and the defeated opposition may try to challenge the elections on the grounds that Yingluck was acting as a puppet for the banned Thaksin (who still faces corruption charges should he return from his Dubai exile).

The party's victorious campaign employed the slogan "Thaksin thinks, Puea Thai acts" , yet according to one analysis, the Democrats and Pheu Thai reached a pre-election deal that would spare Thailand the instability that it experienced when first yellow shirted anti-Thaksin demonstrators demonstrated in Bangkok and closed the international airport. The redshirted supporters of Thaksin retaliated when the Democrats came to power.

The palace, which is another integral part of the old establishment, is less likely to intervene this time, not only because of the solid majority but because the 80-year-old King Bhumibol is recuperating from an operation and is wheel chair ridden.

Where the government may face problems is the economy due to the lavish infrastructure and social service promises made by both major parties prior to the elections. However aid to the rural population has always been a hallmark of the Thaksin legend.

One policy that may have ramifications beyond Thailand is a spike in the price of rice, as the new government implements a policy of buying the rice crop from farmers above market prices. When this policy was last implemented in 2008 global rise prices hit an all-time high leading to food riots in diverse places in the globe. Thailand accounts for 30% of the world's rice supply.

The Pheu Thai victory may have a positive effect in damping down tension with Cambodia over a border dispute. Outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was accused of stirring up nationalist passions to boost his support prior to the elections.