Yingluck joins elite club of female leaders; vote ends her luxury of silence on key issues; first challenge will be to prove her independence
They always come by accident. Corazon Aquino, Benazir Bhutto, Sirimavo Bandaranaike or even Aung San Suu Kyi - you name it. Female leaders rise to power (or folklore in Suu Kyi's case) rarely in normal circumstances. Something bad needs to happen to their loved ones to act as an unlikely but effective catapult.
Yingluck Shinawatra joined the exclusive club yesterday and immediately stood out thanks to her unique character. The aforementioned ladies were combative one way or the other. They adapted to politics quickly and became a rallying cry largely on their own. None was bad-looking, although none can throw away the political hat and immediately start a new career as a cover girl.
Thailand's first female prime minister is young, pretty, fashionable and a bit shy. She virtually cat-walked her way through the election campaign, perhaps talking less than her big brother did from exile over the past two months. But that's probably the point. Yingluck's biggest political asset, at least for now, is that she seems non-confrontational by almost all accounts.
Whether her family name - the only thing confrontational about her - will destabilise her government and cut short a fairy-tale political journey remains to be seen. But her "Shinawatra" surname is a big deal, something so controversial it has all but overshadowed her being a woman, young and virtually clueless about politics.
We have heard different stories concerning her business profession. Admirers talked about a decisive boardroom executive who was "soft on the outside but tough within", who listened to various thoughts before making her own decisions. Given the Shin Corp empire's standing before the political hurricane blew it away, it would be hard to argue against Yingluck's pre-politics record.
Detractors quipped that it was harder to fail than to succeed at Shin Corp when it was at the peak of its business and political dominance. Yingluck, they claimed, could practically sleepwalk through management and still grab top executive awards.
Arguably, the same could be said about her dreamlike election campaign. But again, there are two ways to look at it. Either she was helped by big forces already in great momentum and all she had to do was wave and smile, or her non-provocative waves and smiles helped put Pheu Thai back in power today. Would it have been this smooth with Pracha Promnok or Mingkwan Saengsuwan? It's a question worth pondering, but they are men, to begin with.
The good news is, Yingluck obviously has strong political assets. A humble, female character in the spotlight against the backdrop of cut-throat politics threw enemies and rivals off guard. Pracha or Mingkwan would have been left nearly dead by the "amnesty" issue, whether Pheu Thai had won the election or not.
The bad news is, assets and liabilities switch sides all the time in politics. As a prime ministerial candidate and political newcomer, Yingluck got away with her silence on important issues. That luxury evaporated yesterday. Her being a woman may have been a factor in Pheu Thai's triumph, but, as Sudarat Keyuraphan, a foremost female politician, told The Nation, the political line between love and jealousy or hatred is very thin.
Sudarat was there before, and knew that politics would first pretend to embrace a promising female newcomer, only to take her down on issues that men would easily survive. Family problems, for example, are a non-issue for male politicians, but they could be amplified and kill their female counterparts. "Society looks as though it's ready (for female political leaders), but truth is we have to watch out much more than the boys do," Sudarat said. "I've lost count how many scandals they tried to link me with."
Yingluck's first challenge is to prove her independence, and this is not a feminist phrase. Too much shadow of her big brother and her dream political journey can easily turn into a nightmare. As Thailand's first woman leader, she will come under close watch, whether that's fair or not. But as Thailand's first woman leader who is Thaksin Shinawatra's sister, scrutiny will duly come.
Politics' first date with Yingluck has concluded successfully. July 3 meant she passed the test and yesterday meant an appointment was made for the sake of a long-term relationship. A timid, attractive female politician has taken the centre stage. The first thing she must be aware of is that this is a place where boys won't stay on the side too long, her big brother included.