Friday, July 29, 2011

Yingluck's first challenge: prove you are not a puppet

Yingluck's first challenge: prove you are not a puppet
By The Nation
Published on July 5, 2011

Thailand's first female prime minister must reassure the country she is no 'clone' of her brother if any real national reconciliation is to take place

Yingluck Shinawatra now has to bear both the privilege and the burden of being Thailand's first female prime minister. Yingluck will have to silence her critics by showing that a woman can also be a good premier.

Yingluck has everything she needs to become a good leader. She has been praised by some observant academics for displaying a willingness to compromise, which could be an asset for national reconciliation efforts. Another plus is her experience in the corporate world.

But first of all, Yingluck will have to prove that she is serving the public interest, and not her family business as some critics have claimed.

She will receive the torch passed on by her brother, fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the champion of populist policies. But Yingluck will not have easy days ahead.

First of all, her government faces the immediate challenge of helping people suffering from price rises, an issue that hurt the Democrat Party.

While the rising prices are an inevitable part of a regional inflation trend, the new government will have to help those people who are most vulnerable to the higher cost of living.

During last week's campaign, Yingluck mentioned several potential measures to cope with price rises, including scrapping the oil fund to lower the cost of fuel. But she will have to consider these crucial policies wisely. Although scrapping the oil fund might be successful in lowering fuel prices in the short run, it would leave government without an important tool to lessen the fluctuation of petrol prices in the future. After all, the oil fund was established as an alternative to using tax money for petrol price intervention.

The minimum wage proposal should also be re-considered. In fact the government alone cannot promise workers a certain wage level, because the decision will have to be agreed upon by a tripartite committee of workers, employers and the government. An unrealistically high minimum wage might make for a sexy election campaign promise, but it could create more job losses in the future as factories shift to outsourcing their labour needs or automation instead of paying more for low-skilled workers.

Economic problems aside, the new government will have to proceed with the process of reconciliation to seek the truth behind the deadly political unrest and provide justice to all parties. The reconciliation process must be aimed at providing justice to all rather than providing amnesty for certain politicians.

The two components of truth and justice are of central importance to reconciliation. While investigation into the facts must continue, the process should also offer justice to all parties involved, with investigations taking into consideration the motives and actions that led to the loss of so many lives.

If these two central components are not addressed properly and fairly, the process of national reconciliation will not be possible.

In the longer term, the Yingluck administration will have to improve the country's competitiveness in preparation for Thailand's entry to the Asean Economic Community, where we will face direct competition from other countries in the region.

Unfortunately, none of the political parties has offered any platform to address Thailand's competitiveness. Instead, they have preferred to focus on populist measures. Such policies should in fact be short-lived, with the government instead turning its focus on how to improve the productivity of the country and its people in the long run. However, the Pheu Thai Party has not yet made any serious plan to improve education or improve the capacity of people in a sustainable manner.

These are some of the prominent issues that the Yingluck government will have to address. Although she managed to lead Pheu Thai to a massive victory, she still has to prove that her government and her political career are not designed to produce an amnesty for Thaksin or to return those of his assets now frozen by the courts.

Of course, Yingluck was handpicked by her brother to become the party's prime ministerial candidate. And he described her as his "clone".

But she has the opportunity to make her own history. It would be a crying shame if our first female prime minister were taking office simply to serve the interests of her family.

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