Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand’s Prime minister [biography]
Early life and business career
Yingluck’s great-grandfather, Seng Saekhu, was a overseas Chinese from Guangdong who arrived in Siam in the 1860s and settled in Chiang Mai in 1908. His eldest son, Chiang Saekhu, was born in Chanthaburi province in 1890 and married a Thai woman, called Saeng Somna. Chiang’s eldest son, Sak, adopted the Thai surname Shinawatra (“routinely appropriate action”) in 1938. The Khu/Shinawatra later founded Shinawatra Silks and then moved into finance, construction and real estate development.
Yingluck’s father, Lert, was born at Chiang Mai in 1919 and married Yindi Ramingwong (a daughter of Princess Jantip Na Chiang Mai). In 1968, Lert Shinawatra entered politics and became an MP for Chiang Mai and deputy leader of the now-defunct Liberal party. Lert quit politics in 1976 and opened a coffee shop, grew oranges and flowers in Chiang Mai’s San Kamphaeng district, and opened two movie theatres, a gas station, and a car and motorcycle dealership.
Yingluck Shinawatra is the youngest of nine children of Lert and Yindee. She was given the nickname “Pou” (Thai: ปู, meaning “crab”). Yingluck grew up in Chiang Mai and attended Regina Coeli College, a girls school, at the lower secondary level and then Yupparaj College, a co-ed school, at the upper secondary level. She graduated with a BA degree from the Faculty of Political Science and Public Administration, Chiang Mai University in 1988 and earned a MPA degree (specialization in Management Information Systems) from Kentucky State University in 1991.
Yingluck started her career as a sales and marketing intern at Shinawatra Directories Co., Ltd., a telephone directory business founded by AT&T International. She later became the director of procurement and the director of operations. In 1994, she became the general manager of Rainbow Media, a subsidiary of International Broadcasting Corporation (which later became TrueVisions). She left as Deputy CEO of IBC in 2002, and became the CEO of Advanced Info Service (AIS), Thailand’s largest mobile phone operator. After the sale of Shin Corporation (the parent company of AIS) to Temasek Holdings, Yingluck resigned from AIS, but remained Managing Director of SC Asset Co Ltd, the Shinawatra family property development company. She was investigated by Thailand’s Securities and Exchange Commission regarding possible insider trading after she sold shares of her AIS stock for a profit prior to the sale of the Shin Corporation to Temasek Holdings. No charges were filed. Yingluck Shinawatra is also a committee member and secretary of the Thaicom Foundation.
She has one son, Supasek, with her common-law husband, Anusorn Amornchat. Anusorn was an executive of the Charoen Pokphand Group and managing director of M Link Asia Corporation PCL. Her sister, Yaowapa Wongsawat, is the wife of former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat.
Thailand’s Parliament elected Yingluck Shinawatra the country’s first female prime minister on August 2011, a month after her party won a landslide victory over a coalition backed by the nation’s military and traditional elites.
Ms. Yingluck, 44, a political novice, received 296 votes in the 500-seat Parliament, a reflection of her party’s comfortable majority.
She is the youngest sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister ousted in a 2006 military coup. Mr. Thaksin, who now lives in Dubai, evading a jail term here for abuse of power, looms large as the kingmaker and impresario of the incoming administration and his sister’s Pheu Thai Party.
Ms. Yingluck’s selection must be approved by King Bhumibol Adulyadej before she can officially take office. The Thai news media have speculated that she will announce her cabinet within days.
With the controversial legacy of Mr. Thaksin a boon and a potential barrier, Ms. Yingluck must deliver on her party’s ambitious promises: a sharp increase in the minimum wage, the construction of high-speed rail lines, providing free tablet computers to primary school students, and revamping the country’s health care system, among many others.
But her greatest challenge may be piecing together Thailand’s fractured society, a task that eluded the four governments that came after the 2006 coup. Ms. Yingluck has repeatedly sought to assuage the Thai military, which increased its political clout in the years after the coup.
Pheu Thai won the July 3 election thanks to strong support from the north and northeastern parts of the country, where Mr. Thaksin’s policies — universal health care, a crackdown on drugs and greater financing for local governments — proved very popular.
The losing Democrat Party is the oldest in Thailand and is generally supported by old-money business owners and the current military hierarchy. But such alliances are often fungible, and Ms. Yingluck appears to be forging her own with some members of the elite.
The victory of Ms. Yingluck and her party has nonetheless sharpened divisions between rural and urban areas and started a debate over the significance of a woman leading the country.
Ms. Yingluck, who is 18 years younger than her brother, has spent recent weeks denying stories in the Thai media that Mr. Thaksin is calling the shots from abroad, that he is helping choose the cabinet and wheeling and dealing on her behalf. She has vowed to work “independently.”
Ms. Yingluck is a rarity in the often macho world of Thai politics, but as someone who has never held political office before she is also one of the least experienced leaders to emerge in a major Asian country in decades. Her political career spans about 80 days.
When Pheu Thai named her as a candidate for prime minister, she was urged on by her brother. Some supporters also saw the election as a chance to send a protest message to the military and traditional elite, which had backed the departing coalition and was perceived as applying undue influence behind the scenes.
Ms. Yingluck, despite her family’s fortune, was often portrayed in the campaign as an upcountry girl who was in touch with plebeian Thailand. But much of Ms. Yingluck’s life has been in the shadow of her brother.
In the 1970s, Mr. Thaksin obtained a master’s degree in criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University. A decade and a half later, Ms. Yingluck got a master’s degree in public administration an hour’s drive away, at Kentucky State University, a historically black institution set amid horse farms and rolling hills.
Ms. Yingluck’s professional career began at her brother’s business empire — first at a company that produced telephone directories, then at AIS, the cellular phone company, and finally a real estate company.
Analysts say her brother’s perceived influence is likely to dog her tenure as prime minister.
“Particularly in Southeast Asian countries, male and female politicians often enter politics because of their family connections,” Chalidaporn Songsamphan, a lecturer of political science at Thammasat University in Bangkok, told The Prachachart Turakij, a newspaper. “Yingluck jumped into politics because of the needs of the family.”
For her part, Ms. Yingluck has pleaded for patience. “You might not trust me,” she told a group of reporters last month. “Please give me a chance and time. I will prove myself for all of you.”
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