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Even her critics may agree: Yingluck should be in charge

Publication Date : 11-10-2012

 

Thailand Premier Yingluck Shinawatra has repeated the phrase often enough - to the point that she might finally be convinced of the statement herself: "I am the prime minister and I am in charge." Even die-hard sceptics will have to admit that the premier has recently demonstrated a higher degree of confidence in her work - so much so that I could sense that even the opposition Democrats may be resigned to the fact that she will be in power for a while yet.

Of course, you can still say she has been putting on a brave face out of exasperation rather than the realisation that she has been voted in to lead the government, and not to serve merely as her brother's puppet.

Premier Yingluck has made it a point to appoint herself chairperson for all the major national issues, from the deep-South crisis to the anti-flood "war room". In most cases when she has been confronted with rising criticism on certain policy issues, and looked around and couldn't find any Cabinet member who could handle the confidence-sapping issues, Premier Yingluck has simply jumped in and declared herself in charge.

You can say it's a welcoming sign of a growing sense of leadership from someone who has been accused of being nothing more than a figurehead. Or you can say that it reflects a deepening sign of exasperation: She just doesn't have enough capable people around her.

But I was struck by her latest public statement that her brother Thaksin isn't making any decisions on the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle. "I am in charge. I make the choices."

The fact that the premier appeared with her sister, Yaowapa Wongswasdi (better known as Sister Daeng), the following day in a Chinatown function, might have further stirred speculation about the elder sister's influence in Yingluck's government. But if she could "dismiss" Thaksin from her sphere of influence, she could probably, at least on the record, also effectively distance herself from Yaowapa.

The fact that some Pheu Thai MPs were flying to Hong Kong over the weekend, leaking the news that they were there to discuss the rumoured Cabinet changes with Thaksin, didn't help confirm the premier's "single command" authority, of course. But Yingluck was emphatic that the MPs were only meeting her brother for a social get-together.

She didn't say it in so many words but one could interpret it as the premier was telling her own MPs that they were only wasting their time lobbying with her brother: The real power lies at Government House right in Bangkok here. Or that's what her message was supposed to say.

If anything, she has at least stalled those close to her brother who have been pressing for an early Cabinet shake-up. Yingluck has made it clear that she will tackle the flood before getting down to the new Cabinet list.

Nobody knows whether Thaksin thinks his sister has become "too independent". But it is clear that he would not want to put so much pressure on the prime minister that she might just quit if she isn't seen to be running her own show, at least from now on anyway.

As it stands now, Thaksin needs his sister more than the other way round. That's why he and his close aides have delayed the campaign for the constitutional amendments and passage of the amnesty bill so that the premier can get sufficient breathing space to ensure the government's stability.

That's also why, you might have noticed, Thaksin has not been talking about coming home as often and as vehemently as he had done earlier.

The real irony is that the better Yingluck performs as premier, the more difficult it would be for Thaksin to try to pave the way for his own return.

Now even her harshest critics may begin to believe that she is really her own woman. Don't be surprised, therefore, if she gets more support even from those who can't stand her brother.

 

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