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Fugitive Thaksin’s Sister Picked to Lead Thailand Opposition

Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thailand's fugitive ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra. Photographer: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images
Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thailand's fugitive ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra. Photographer: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images

May 16 (Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s opposition Pheu Thai party chose the sister of fugitive ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra as its top candidate for a July 3 election, a move that might inflame adversaries who want to prevent him from returning to power.

Yingluck Shinawatra, 43, will be Thailand’s first-ever female leader if Pheu Thai forms a government. Thaksin’s allies have won the past four elections, only to see the last three results overturned through legal challenges and a military coup.

“I will do my best as I want to see reconciliation,” Yingluck, the youngest of Thaksin’s nine siblings, said today in Bangkok. “I want our nation to move forward. I will play by the rules. I hope all parties will give me a chance.”

The choice may trigger a repeat of scenes in 2008, when Thaksin’s opponents, who wore yellow shirts to show allegiance to Thailand’s monarchy, seized Bangkok’s airports in a bid to oust his allies. Thaksin fled a jail sentence for abuse of power the same year and has directed anti-government protests and party affairs from overseas ever since.

Moves to have Thaksin return “would certainly invite a backlash from the yellow shirts or a dedicated anti-Thaksin faction,” Jun Trinidad, an economist at Citigroup Inc. in Manila, said in a May 11 report. “A Pheu Thai party regurgitating the same old political themes could pave the way for more political conflict, setting the stage for another military intervention.”

Economic Growth

Further turmoil may hurt economic growth that reached a 15-year high of 7.8 percent last year and stocks that have been among Asia’s best performers over the past 12 months. Foreign investors have bought a net $871 million of Thai stocks this year, the second-most in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.

“Everybody knows that she’s not a seasoned politician,” said Kiat Sittheeamorn, Thailand’s trade representative and a member of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s party. “It will be difficult not to imagine that many people would understand that she’s also acting on behalf of someone else."

From 2002 to 2006, Yingluck served as president of Advanced Info Service Pcl, a mobile-phone company founded by Thaksin that is now Thailand’s biggest.

She stepped down in 2006 shortly after Thaksin’s family sold its stake in holding company Shin Corp. to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings Pte for 73 billion baht ($2.4 billion), a deal that netted Yingluck 985 million baht and fueled protests that led to Thaksin’s overthrow in a coup later that year.

Master’s Degree

Since then, Yingluck has been president of Bangkok-based property developer SC Asset Corp., controlled by Thaksin’s children. Pintongta Shinawatra, Thaksin’s daughter, was appointed to SC Asset’s board on May 12, the company said in a regulatory filing.

In Yingluck’s time running the company, SC Asset shares have risen 101 percent, compared with a 45 percent increase in Thailand’s benchmark SET Index. The SET has gained 41 percent in the past 12 months, the best performance among Asia’s 15 biggest markets.

Described as ‘‘an attractive and successful young woman” by the Nation newspaper, Yingluck has a master’s degree in business administration from Kentucky State University.

Her brother’s stint as prime minister had “pros and cons” for her personally, Yingluck told the Nation in a 2005 interview while she was president of Advanced Info.

“Many people think that my status as president of the company did not come from my own abilities,” she was quoted as saying. “I use that. It inspires me to work even harder to produce results that everyone can accept.”

The July 3 election will pit Yingluck against Abhisit, 46, who was born in the United Kingdom and graduated from Oxford University. He took power in a 2008 parliamentary vote after a court disbanded the pro-Thaksin ruling party for election fraud, a move that coincided with the airport takeover.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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