Paetongtarn: the electoral face of Thailand’s controversial Shinawatra clan
By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela
Bangkok, May 8 (EFE).- Neophyte politician Paetongtarn Shinawatra, candidate for prime minister in Sunday’s elections in Thailand, is the electoral face of the influential Shinawatra clan, repeatedly ousted from power by the pro-military elite and ultra-monarchy of the country.
Paetongtarn, 36, and whose party leads in the polls, is the daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra, prime minister from 2001 until he was ousted in a 2006 military coup, and the niece of Yingluck, who was also ousted by the army in 2014.
The politician, popularly known as Ung Ing and who ran the electoral campaign pregnant, gave birth to a baby May 1 and organized a press conference Wednesday in hospital to express her confidence in the results of her Pheu Thai party in the elections.
“If Pheu Thai can win a landslide victory and be the government, we can make changes immediately,” Paetongtarn said, shortly after showing reporters her newborn in an incubator.
She said her party is the one that can bring the change Thailand needs and added that her 73-year-old father wants to return to the country to take care of his grandchildren and not to return to politics.
Despite leading the polls, Paetongtarn is not Pheu Thai’s only candidate.
The other two candidates are property magnate Srettha Thavisin and Chaikasem Nitisiri, the party strategist, and any of the three could become prime minister if they win the election.
The Shinawatras enjoy strong support among rural north and northeastern and poorer workers across much of the country, but are pitted against more conservative upper and middle-class voters.
In recent rallies held by her party in different provinces, Paetongtarn has been connecting by video conference to greet her supporters, who still remember the social policies of her father, who established universal healthcare and facilitated soft loans in rural areas.
“They treat me very well (the party supporters). Of course, many of them are fans of my father and my aunt. I know they (Thaksin and Yingluck) did a lot for the country, so when (the supporters) see me, they are very happy,” said the young candidate in a recent interview with the Today program on YouTube.
According to a recent survey by the National Institute of Development Administration, Pheu Thai is the favorite party among 38.32 percent of respondents, followed by the reformist Move Forward party with 33.96 percent.
Then comes the United Thai Nation party of current prime minister and 2014 coup-leader Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, with 12.84 percent of support.
However, for the party or coalition that wants to form a government, it will not be enough to win the popular vote that will elect the 500 deputies of the Lower House, since 250 senators handpicked by the old military junta also participate in the election of the prime minister. (2014-2019).
If the opposition does not win more than 376 seats, it is uncertain what will happen after Sunday’s vote.
After years of crisis and with growing inequality in the country, Pheu Thai has promised to create 20 million jobs and almost double the minimum wage to 600 baht (about $17.5) a day and raise the monthly salary of recent graduates to 25,000 baht.
But the party’s best asset is having Thaksin behind it. The magnate revolutionized Thai politics in the 2000s with measures in favor of poorer classes, although he was also accused of causing more than 2,500 deaths in his “war on drugs” and evading taxes.
A former police colonel and telecommunications magnate, Thaksin was deposed after falling out with the pro-military and royalist elite, which led to his and later his sister Yingluck’s fall from power.
Thaksin and his sister, both in exile, have been accused of corruption by their rivals, though they say the charges are politically motivated.
Some analysts have suggested that Pheu Thai could ally with a pro-military party to avoid future coups, but Paetongtarn has ruled out such a pact.