Pheu Thai, the party of Thailand’s exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, won a resounding victory in a parliamentary election on Sunday, ousting the Democrat Party and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from power. The elections will make Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thaksin, the country’s first female prime minister.
The elections were seen as a referendum on the unrest that has troubled Thailand of late, and the result gave the Pheu Thai party an overwhelming majority, with the party taking a projected 264 seats compared to the Democrat Party’s 160 (with 98% of votes counted). Prime Minister Abhisit conceded the election on Sunday evening.
Ms. Yingluck is currently in discussions about forming a coalition with the small regional party Chart Thai Pattana, which would add 55 seats to the Pheu Thai coalition. Still, Ms. Yingluck and Pheu Thai have not ruled out the possibility of aiming for a wider coalition.
It is still unclear if Pheu Thai has reached an agreement with the powerful military, which overthrew Thaksin and installed a new government in 2006. The military’s support will be crucial in ensuring a peaceful transition of power.
While Pheu Thai initially stated that it supported political amnesty, both for Thaksin and other politicians under fire, it later backtracked, issuing a statement that claimed it did not in fact back such a policy.
Report & Analysis: Thais back ousted prime minister’s party in landslide [New York Times, 2 Jul 2011]
The elections impacted the currency markets as well, as the Thai baht rose by 0.7 percent to 30.58 per dollar, the most since May 2009. The election victory also raises prospects of foreign investors returning to Thailand. Experts generally view the Pheu Thai victory as a positive development for the economy and foreign investment.
Vana Bulbon, CEO of UOB Asset Management Co in Thailand, said that Pheu Thai’s majority victory will allow them to “control key economic ministries, allowing better coorindation and implementation of policies. Politics has been the key risk discouraging overseas investors from putting more money in Thailand.”
Still, others cautioned that Pheu Thai’s victory will not put an end to political instability, and that there could be more violence and protests to come. Thaksin himself said from Dubai that the only way for the country to enjoy peace would be for the military and all Thais to respect the outcome of the election, whatever it might be.
Report & Analysis: Thailand’s baht rises as pro-Thaksin party wins [Bloomberg, 4 Jul 2011]
The election victory marks a remarkable comeback for Thaksin, who was forced from power in 2006 by a military coup. It also sends a clear message that despite continuous efforts to undermine his power and support, he remains extremely popular throughout the country. It remains to be seen if Thaksin will now attempt a return to Thailand, and if the new Pheu Thai coalition will offer him amnesty.
Report & Analysis: Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra [New Mandala, 3 Jul 2011]