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Friday, May 27, 2011
Women's progress or men's pawn?
She's got it all. The right looks, the right education, the right family name. And most importantly, the right brother.
Yingluck Shinawatra is certainly woman of the moment. But is she a woman with a mind of her own? Perhaps.
Give the business executive some credit. Unfortunately, her imperial
brother's description of her as his "clone" has effectively reduced her
into nothing more than his robot.
Maybe that is what Thaksin Shinawatra needs right now _ a person he
can fully trust. Maybe that is what his Pheu Thai Party cannot say no
to, since the party is nothing without Thaksin. But when the woman
billed as the country's most likely first female prime minister, is
treated as the family patriarch's property, what does it say about our
country, our culture?
Actually there is nothing new about women becoming politicians to
continue their political dynasties after the demise of their husbands
or fathers. The absence of the family patriarch, however, usually
allows the wife and daughter to build their own persona.
Not when Thaksin and his party executives were "politically killed"
and banned from participating in politics for five years. They fielded
their wives or family members and pulled strings from behind. But at
least they kept it discreet.
Not Thaksin this time. When he is fielding his little sister, he
practically towers over her. In a recent exclusive interview with Post
Today, Thaksin praised Ms Yingluck as the right material for
premiership. "She is my clone," he said. "She has my exact management
Is he praising his sister's qualities or himself?
He added: "Most important, she is my sister. As party leader, she can decide for me. She can say yes or no for me."
What was he really saying? That she can follow exactly what he wants?
In the interview, Thaksin made it clear what he wants: political
reconciliation. This is in line with his earlier strategy to "melt the
colour divide" to win electoral votes from the silent majority who are
fed up with political violence.
By reconciliation, he did not mean the "no justice no peace"
reconciliation which he had made his phone-in mantra. He was talking
about striking secret deals through behind-the-scenes bargaining with
In the interview, he claimed that "all parties" now want to end the
political conflicts as a present for His Majesty the King's 84th
birthday this year. The talks have already started, and Ms Yingluck is
already part of the process, he said. He also insisted the reds must
"swallow the pain" while promising no revenge once he returns to power.
Veteran politician Chalerm Yubamrung already said Pheu Thai would
issue an amnesty decree for all conflicting parties. But does
"swallowing the pain" also mean the end of efforts to establish what
happened during the crackdown, the relatives of the dead having to
forego legal justice, as well as no more pushes for reform of the
monarchy and the abrogation of the draconian lese majeste law?
No, Ms Yingluck cannot answer these questions. Only her brother can.
It is interesting that Thaksin focused on her being a woman as his
sister's strength. For him, a woman's compromising style would be
instrumental in getting his reconciliation job done.
But being a tool of men to preserve their power is definitely not
why women's groups have been pushing for more women's political
participation in politics. They believe that women politicians are more
supportive of the policies to end gender discrimination and violence.
That women would help transform the top-down system to be more
Believers are repeatedly disappointed, however. Women in political
dynasties simply do not bother. Also, many female politicians became
one of the men.
So far, many laws that support women's rights have been possible
because of men's support. The lesson: what matters is one's awareness
of gender equality, not the sex you are born with.
Ms Yingluck can make her candidacy for premiership a step forward
for the women's movement if she has a solid policy platform on gender
equality. If not, her entering politics out of sheer gratitude as a
pawn in Mr Thaksin's political game only shows how deeply stuck in
patriarchy our society remains.