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Thailand’s landmark election: What comes next?

Some key issues to consider in the months ahead. Yingluck’s win was significant — but there could be more turbulence to come.

Thailand yingluck shinawatra 2011 07 05Enlarge
Yingluck Shinawatra, of the opposition Puea Thai party and sister of fugitive Thai ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, gives a traditional greeting next to a large portrait of herself during a press conference at her party headquarters in Bangkok on July 3, 2011. Puea Thai had won a majority of seats in Parliament, paving the way for Yingluck to be the nation's first female prime minister. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images)

BANGKOK, Thailand — So what comes next?

That’s the question many people are asking here in Thailand following Sunday’s first general election in five years. The highly anticipated vote saw a party loyal to a fugitive prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, take a majority in parliament. His younger sister, Yingluck, a telegenic 44-year-old who is a political novice, is set to be the country’s first female prime minister.

The result is a rejection of the Bangkok establishment, which includes the powerful army that overthrew Thaksin in 2006, the courts that dismissed his subsequently elected allies, and the Oxford-educated prime minister who has now been voted out.

The election came just a year after bloody anti-government protests that marked the Southeast Asian country’s worst political violence in decades. Some 91 people were killed and thousands injured when red-clad supporters, most of them Thaksin backers, rallied in Bangkok.

Ahead of the election, many wondered: Would voters stand by Thaksin and his sister? Or would his opponents be able to muster enough support to keep his party out of office? The answers were: Most definitely yes, and not even close.

“I've said this several times. We are not going to intervene.”
~Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon on whether there will be another coup

So now that the vote is over, and a Thaksin-linked party will be assuming office, what can we expect to follow?

Here are some key issues to consider in the months ahead. Yingluck’s win was significant — but there could be more turbulence to come.

Does the vote mean Thailand’s political crisis is easing?

Far from it. Anger among Red Shirt supporters may have eased now that their party has won. But the anti-Thaksin camp may well hate the former leader more than ever. His critics say he is venal, greedy, megalomaniac, and that he has duped poor, rural voters into voting for him.

In Thailand, powerful people refuse to “accept the voices of the majority,” according to a Thai political analyst who asked not to be named. While not a Thaksin supporter, he says the country’s troubles began when Thaksin was ousted in 2006. Whereas in the United States or elsewhere, “the electorate or supporters of one party would accept the result of the election if another wins,” this is not the case in Thailand.

In an example that illustrates the severity of the situation, he says he has friends who occupy coveted positions in government ministries and the business world — and who support Pheu Thai’s rival, the Democrat party. Rather than accepting that Thaksin’s party has won the election, they are bitter, and argue that the election should be scrapped. They say the votes of Thailand’s poor — many of whom are Thaksin supporters — should not be counted because the people in the countryside are uneducated.

Will there be another coup?

In short, it depends on what Pheu Thai does next. While Yingluck and her party have a political mandate, history shows that coups have been frequent in Thailand: There have been 18 successful or attempted coups since the 1930s.

Such is the anticipation of a potential military move that much of today’s international and domestic media coverage, two days after the election, has featured comments made yesterday by Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon.

“I've said this several times,” he was quoted by Thai media as saying, “We are not going to intervene.” The very fact that a denial is noteworthy demonstrates how commonplace coups are here.

Of course, it’s worth noting that military leaders have made similar statements before Thaksin was overthrown in 2006. “Military coups are a thing of the past,” army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin told the International Herald Tribune in March 2006. Tanks rolled through the streets six months later.

The message from voters on Sunday was “we don't want a military coup d'etat to change our choice of leaders,” wrote Pichai Chuensuksawadi, editor-in-chief of English-language newspaper The Bangkok Post.

Can Yingluck deliver?

Yingluck has to live up to some lofty promises her party made on the campaign trail. One is to provide tablet PCs for schoolchildren under a program called “one tablet per child.” (The computers wouldn't be iPads, though, but rather cheaper versions that run on the Android operating system.)

The Pheu Thai party has also pledged to guarantee prices for rice farmers, and has vowed to focus on massive infrastructure projects. One of the construction projects involves building a railway from Bangkok’s international