History will not be a kind judge of Yingluck

History will not be a kind judge of Yingluck

The biggest surprise in the latest cabinet reshuffle, the fourth in as little as two years, must be the appointment of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as the defence minister.

As the cabinet list was unveiled, pundits have had a field day speculating on the significance of Thailand having its first female defence minister.

Many believe the move is designed to allow her to influence the military reshuffle that will follow later this year.

Others believe the prime minister is there to ensure her government will be safe from a military coup like the one that toppled her brother's government in 2006.

Ms Yingluck herself merely says she is taking up the defence portfolio to forge better cooperation between her office and the military.

What kind of cooperation it is and why this kind of cooperation is needed is left to the imagination.

If the motive behind the manoeuvre is not clear, what is clear is that it was orchestrated by the MiD, the "Man in Dubai" _ fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Despite claims by Ms Yingluck and her supporters to the contrary, most observers still believe Thaksin holds the remote control on her government. The MiD keeps popping up around the neighbourhood every time a decision of significance is being made.

But events leading to the latest cabinet reshuffle have clearly shown that running a country by remote control is not working as foreseen. Populist policies like the first-time car buyer programme and the rice-pledging programme somehow came crashing down soon after lift-off. The water management project and the 2.2-trillion-baht infrastructure loan look likely to run into a steel barrier.

Ms Yingluck initially played her part admirably in the face of formidable adversaries. She had to deal with the historic flood almost as soon as she assumed office. She stumbled through speeches and became a subject of ridicule. Through it all she kept a smile on her face and soldiered on.

You couldn't help but admire her fortitude. Most people had rooted for her and were willing to give her time to get things right.

If only she had had the strength of integrity and independence of mind to match her fortitude, we could be a proud nation with our first woman leader. Unfortunately, she was soon caught up in the political ploys schemed up by her brother and his cronies.

For a time she seemed to realise the gravity of her responsibility and tried to shake off the leash placed on her by her brother. But it was not to be because the fact is she is nothing, politically speaking, without Thaksin.

To start with, her experience as the CEO of a family-run business has not prepared her to be a star politician. She had spent zero days in politics or public affairs prior to her entrance into Thai politics. You simply cannot expect someone with this type of background to come in and run a country effectively.

There's a world of difference between running a company and a country. What drives a company is profit while what drives a nation is the well-being and aspirations of its people.

When he was in power, Thaksin ran the country like a CEO running Thailand Inc. Even provincial governors were taught to become "CEO governors".

We now know how that grand experiment turned out. Most of the profit of Thailand Inc was accrued to Thaksin himself and his cronies with few leftovers for the poor masses.

Thaksin is by nature a shrewd businessman with a monopolistic tendency. In government, that tendency was turned into authoritarianism. He has proven himself to be a marketing guru extraordinaire and a master manipulator who is able to maintain his popularity in spite of being implicated in many unsavoury deals while in government.

But under him and now his sister, governance is all a charade. And as a charade, it can only last for so long.

The so-called reconciliation and charter amendment bills are just a facade to bring back the infamous fugitive as a free man and consolidate the regime's power. All the grand development schemes, particularly the 350-billion-baht water management and the 2.2-trillion-baht infrastructure plans, are but a facade to keep out public participation, ensuring that gains are distributed among allies of the government.

Most populist policies are mere crumbs to keep the masses happy without promoting the sustainability of their livelihoods. Increasingly, however, people are beginning to see through these facades, and many who previously were apathetic have awakened to the truth.

Inevitably, the shine of the first woman prime minister is coming off. Her popularity, at its height shortly after her taking office, has been on the wane.

Rising criticism of her government has apparently frustrated her so much that, according to recent media reports, she lashed out at her ministers for leaving her to face the critics alone.

To make up for the image deficit, the latest reshuffle also saw new faces among her spokespeople. And she took a surprising step by taking over direct supervision of the Public Relations Department, which operates TV Channel 11.

But Ms Yingluck may have hit out at the wrong target, because she does not lack in public relations or exposure. On the contrary, she might have been the victim of overexposure.

Her likeness can be seen on numerous giant billboards rented by public agencies lining the nation's major highways. Every Saturday she speaks to the public on television for an hour. And the nation's media all carry her photogenic pictures prominently.

There are many causes of her declining popularity, at the top of which is the complete lack of transparency of her administration and her lack of regard for parliament, shown by her constant absence from its meetings. She has probably spent more time outside the country than inside the parliament building.

Most damaging of all is probably the increasing perception that her government has no regard for public concerns over corruption and lack of transparency, which were the same concerns during her brother's regime.

History will mark her as Thailand's first female prime minister, but it will not be kind to her.

Wasant Techawongtham is former News Editor, Bangkok Post. He is currently a freelance writer and editorial director of Milky Way Press, a publishing house.

Wasant Techawongtham

Freelance Reporter

Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.

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