Introducing the World's Newest Female Leader

There are several reasons to celebrate last week’s elections in Thailand. To begin, on August 5th, Yingluck Shinawatra made history in Thailand when she was elected the first female prime minister of Thailand. She now joins only eleven other women internationally in her role as prime minister. Many are hailing this as a major victory for the people of Thailand, particularly the rural poor, as the Puea Thai Party promises many positive reforms, such as an increase in minimum wage, major improvements to the healthcare system, and most ambitious of all: providing free tablet computers to primary schools students throughout Thailand. Secondly, Shinawatra's landslide victory over incumbent Abhisit Vejjajiv, and his subsequent peaceful resignation, hint that democracy may be back on the upswing in Thailand.

But, there are reasons to look nervously toward the future. To begin, as the youngest sister of exiled prime minister Thaksin many speculate that Shinawatra will be little more than a puppet, as her notoriously outspoken brother actually calls the shots from his home in Dubai. Second, Shinawatra is now the 6th prime minister in Thailand since 2006, a nation that has proven adept at staging military coups. Given the military’s well documented antipathy towards Thaksin, Shinawatra should heed warnings to tread lightly else the country could break into more fighting.

Despite these challenges, Shinawatra stands at an exciting crossroads. She has vowed “to lead the country to unity and reconciliation.” And lead, she must. A peaceful future in Thailand is dependent on goodwill and compromise from the now heavily fractioned populace. As Joshua Kurlantzick argues in an Op-Ed in the Financial Times:

In the longer run, both Thailand's urban middle classes and its poor must accept the need for painful change. The poor, and their allies in Ms Yingluck's party, must accept that they have to protect private property rights and the rule of law and also that they must not let Mr Thaksin back into Thailand, no matter how much they love him.

The middle classes, including their allies in the army and the royal palace, need to accept that if Thailand is to be a democracy, the will of the voters must triumph. Hardest of all, Mr Thaksin must accept that he really does have to retire, if he wants his country to flourish and his positive legacies – including political empowerment and poverty reduction – to stand the test of time. But if he and his sister insist on a comeback, he may yet have to take responsibility for the final fiery death of a once-promising democratic nation.
Photo credit: The Daily Beast