The Thai parliament elected the nation's first female Prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, on Friday. She has to be proclaimed by the nation's king before she can officially take over the office. If King Bhumibol Adulyadej proclaims her, she will be the 28th prime minister in Thai history.
Ten years back another South East Asian country had elected its first female president. Megawati Sukarnoputri became Indonesia's first female president in 2001. Besides the fact that both women became the first female political heads of their respective countries, both are bearer's of their family's political legacy. Yingluck is the younger sister of one of Thailand's most dominant political figures, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup. Megawati's father, President Sukarno, steered Indonesia to independence in 1945, before he too was overthrown in a bloody coup in 1965.
While both have a somewhat similar background, will they share the same fate? While it is true that Yingluck is on the verge of embarking on her political career, only time will tell how effective she is in office. However, Megawati has already been the president and suffered a crushing defeat when she ran for re-election in the 2004 presidential elections.
Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, introduced many popular policies like rural poverty alleviation and universal healthcare programs. However, following allegations of corruption, authoritarianism and treason, the military junta overthrew Shinawatra's government when he was abroad. Analysts' view Yingluck's election as Prime Minister as a way for Thaksin to wrest back power and critics are concerned that Yingluck might just be a puppet in her brother's hands. Yingluck's political career began only 11 weeks ago, but she has already managed to garner political stardom in a matter of days after entering the election race on May 16. This could be due to her brother's influence, observe some analysts.
Megawati also followed a similar trajectory in her election as President. Despite her political ineptitude, Megawati had the Sukarno name. The potent mystique and the spirit of nationalism that the name inspired, made Megawati popular and got her elected as President, stated a 2001 Times report. Both women didn't always have political ambitions. Megawati described herself as a housewife before entering politics and she allowed herself to be outmaneuvered for presidency by Abdurrahman Wahid despite her election victory in 1999. Yingluck is a business woman who declined to become the leader of the Pheu Thai Party when it was formed.
Megawati assumed power in office at a time when Indonesia's economy was fragile and unemployment was rampant. The Megawati Administration made significant progress in stabilizing Indonesia's economy during its first year in office. It rejuvenated Indonesia's economic reform program and restored Indonesia's relationship with the IMF, which had deteriorated during the Presidency of former President Abdurrahman Wahid. However, Megawati's administration was still criticized for not being able to achieve economic progress or stability. A 2004 Times report published right before her re-election bid, called her two years in office "ineffective and inconsistent."
Megawati was criticized for not doing enough to make Indonesia a stable or safe place, stated the report. Separatist movements were still raging and her administration was brutally suppressing one of them. Her response to the Islamic militancy threat was seen as indecisive in some quarters. Indonesia's GDP growth was 3.4 percent at the time, compared with 6.5 percent for all other developing East Asian countries. Megawati was also criticized for failing to deal with corruption. The report did point out that every single criticism leveled at Megawati wasn't fair as she did manage to revitalize the frayed Indonesian economy to some extent. However Megawati lost favor among voters and wasn't re-elected as President.
Only time will tell whether Yingluck will suffer Megawati's fate since both women have similar political backgrounds. In Yingluck's case however, there is more concern about the degree of influence her brother wields on her. Whether she becomes just a spokesperson for Thaksin Shinawatra or proves herself otherwise is yet to be seen.