A month or so on, however, and the decision is looking like a stroke of genius. Ms Yingluck has taken the campaign by storm, generating enough buzz and excitement to build a handy lead in the polls over the incumbent Democrat Party…
So how has Ms Yingluck managed it? To shine a little daylight on the magic, I joined her and her very large team for a day on the campaign trail in Thailand’s deep (and largely Muslim) south. This is not natural Pheu Thai country—their heartland is in the rural north of the country—but she was mobbed nonetheless, even if only by her own supporters.
Warming to this theme, the egocentric Mr Thaksin was rash enough at the start to describe Ms Yingluck as nothing more than his “clone”. It’s clear, however, that Ms Yingluck is rather more than the family android—and brings to the campaign her own qualities and attributes.
For a start, she is not quite the political ingénue that she seems. Although at 44 years old she has never held public office, she points out that she comes from an intensely political family; her father was an MP for Chiang Mai, their hometown in the north-west, and her brother was prime minister. She studied political science in Thailand and public administration at an American university. Politics, her friends claim, is in the blood.
BP: In some ways, it is interesting how Puea Thai have framed the Yingluck narrative. As she has not been a politician, she does not have the baggage, but as is clear from the WikiLeaks cable she has clearly been playing a more key role behind-the-scenes than what we knew – she would not have gone to meet the Ambassador on multiple occasions if there were not plans for her in the future. This is not to suggest she is some political genius, it is more of a question of expectations.
The last Thaksin relative, or more accurately brother-in-law, Somchai W was uninspiring and lacked charisma. Not much was known about Yingluck, but from BP’s own view and some views of others, not much was expected. BP thought she would be relatively competent, but that she would say the “wrong thing” and hence she would be called out because she was politically inexperienced. So far, she has been stage-managed, but her messaging is relentless and this has reduced the chances for her to say something stupid. It was Thaksin who put her in the bad position by calling her his clone because as The Economist notes her personality is quite different from Thaksin.
On this Bloomberg has this interesting quote from one her competitors from her AIS days:
Thana Thienachariya, former chief corporate affairs officer for Total Access Communication Pcl, Advanced Info’s top rival, said that in business Yingluck was “honest, compromising and diplomatic.” He said she didn’t use “the media to attack her competitors or anything like that. She avoided confrontation.”
BP: Despite been given ample opportunities in interviews, she has been very careful not to go negative – see this post for more details. Of course, this is part of the Puea Thai campaign message for her, but as you see from the Bloomberg quote this is part of her personality.
The Economist continues:
Moreover, though might be relatively new to the game herself, she has surrounded herself with a very experienced team of older men who have been running her brother’s various campaigns for years. Thus her very appealing freshness, youth and easy-going nature are finely balanced against a hard-nosed, slick and pragmatic campaign that organises every step she takes, every camera angle and every handshake. Not a word or a smile is wasted. As the first woman to run for prime minister in Thailand she also seems to be mobilising women to vote for the party. Her youthfulness appeals to the Facebook generation.
BP: ThaiPBS on the weekend for one of their news stories – think it was evening news on Sunday – noted that Yingluck always wears white shirts and that there is always then a red contrast as per the below image:
Then from last week in the campaign when Yingluck visited the Deep South, and wore a red hijab:
BP: The writer then goes onto describe the campaign as “among the best choreographed and organised that I’ve seen”
The article has some interesting comments on the Democrats and below is just an excerpt:
In truth, they have been completely wrong-footed by Ms Yingluck. At party headquarters all their managers hope for is that the Yingluck whirlwind will blow itself out (“the novelty will wear off”), after which they can then subject her half-baked policies to the scrutiny that they deserve. But by that time, I suspect, the election itself will be virtually upon us. In other words, they are out of time.
BP: Exactly. They expected, like many, Yingluck would be making mistakes, but as she hasn’t they have had to revert to plan b of attack…
btw, the Democrats haven’t been helped by Prayuth deciding he can help them by speaking out on TV and thereby further aligning with the red shirt narrative of the military-Democrat alignment.