Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva speaks in the rain to supporters during final campaigning efforts for the ruling Democrat Party in Bangkok July 1, 2011. Thais will go to the polls on July ... more
By Alan Raybould BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai opposition leader Yingluck Shinawatra, a political newcomer, prepared to lead her country after a stunning weekend election victory but huge challenges lie ahead, including how quickly to bring home her brother, exiled ex-premier Thaksin.
The Election Commission projected their Puea Thai party would win 264 of the 500 seats in parliament, a decisive win that appears to make it hard for Thaksin's die-hard opponents in the army and establishment to stop Yingluck taking power.
"Winning by a big margin would ease the problem of the military intervening and make it easier for them to form the government and implement all their policies," said Kongkiat Opaswongkarn, chief executive of broker Asia Plus Securities. "We expect a jump when the stock market opens and this is because it is a big win, with less risk of having the military meddling with politics." The baht rose more than 1 percent against the dollar on Monday, outperforming other Asian currencies.
Late on Sunday, Yingluck brushed aside concerns about the cost of the promises made during her election campaign, from tablet computers for schoolchildren to a big increase in the minimum wage, which critics say will damage the economy.
"That's not true, we know what to do. We'll reduce costs for people and we know how to generate the income that we'll give back to them," she told Reuters. Newspapers concentrated on the photogenic 44-year-old businesswoman on Monday, momentarily leaving Thaksin to one side, although he was all over the television screens on Sunday, offering his congratulations from Dubai.
The stridently anti-Thaksin Nation newspaper accepted the result but pulled no punches on the challenge ahead. "The election is over but the hatred remains," it headlined its leader column. "It's time for ordinary Thais to take reconciliation into their own hands." Outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded defeat quickly on Sunday. "I would like to congratulate the Puea Thai Party for the right to form a government," he said. Just over a year ago, the military put down a protest movement by Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters in Bangkok and 91 people lost their lives. Nearly 2,000 were injured.
The election results were a rebuke to the traditional establishment of generals, "old money" families and royal advisers in Bangkok who loathe Thaksin and backed Abhisit, an Oxford-educated economist who lacked the common touch.
THAKSIN BIDES HIS TIME The size of Puea Thai's victory could usher in much-needed political stability after six years of sporadic unrest since Thaksin was ousted in a coup. He now lives in Dubai to avoid jail for graft charges that he says were politically motivated.
The years of unrest have featured the occupation of Bangkok's two airports, a blockade of parliament, an assassination attempt and last year's protests. "Chances of blocking Puea Thai in the near term are severely limited," said Roberto Herrera-Lim, Southeast Asian analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. "The instability everyone has been worried about now looks less likely. The military will have to be pragmatic now." The red shirts accuse the rich, the establishment and army top brass of breaking laws with impunity -- grievances that have simmered since the 2006 coup -- and have clamoured for Thaksin's return. Thaksin said he would "wait for the right moment" to come home. "If my return is going to cause problems, then I will not do it yet. I should be a solution, not a problem," he told reporters in Dubai. The former telecommunications tycoon himself scored two landslide election wins and is idolised by the poor as the first politician to address the needs of millions living beyond Bangkok's bright lights. (Additional reporting by Vithoon Amorn, Panarat thepgumpanat, Jason Szep and Martin Petty)