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Thai's Yingluck hoping to ride on brother's coattails Add to ...

The day before her candidacy to be Thailand's next prime minister was officially announced, most people here knew only two things about Yingluck Shinawatra: she has a glittering smile and she's the sister of controversial former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Almost two weeks later, it has become clear those traits, particularly the latter, may be enough to persuade many Thais to vote for her.

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Despite a campaign long on photo opportunities and thus far short on substance (most notably she has refused to publicly debate her main opponent, the incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva), opinion polls show the 43-year-old Ms. Yingluck may be on her way to leading the opposition Pheu Thai party to victory in the country's critical July 3 election.

The latest poll, conducted by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University, has Pheu Thai in front with 43 per cent of the vote, up from 41 per cent a week ago, compared with 37 per cent for Mr. Abhisit's Democrat Party.

If it holds, the campaign could well end with Ms. Yingluck, a soft-spoken businesswoman with no previous political experience, named Thailand's first-ever female prime minister.

In the eyes of many, that would mark less of a breakthrough for women's rights in this patriarchal society than it would a victory for Mr. Thaksin, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup following back-to-back landslide election wins. Though Pheu Thai means "For Thais," the party's slogan - "Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai does" - leaves no question who the real driving force is.

Mr. Thaksin, who is revered by many of the county's poor for his populist economic policies while in office, but despised by the country's elite as a tyrant-in-waiting, currently lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai after being convicted of corruption following the coup.

"This is the weakness of Pheu Thai, that they can't delink themselves from Thaksin Shinawatra. They wait for calls from Dubai or Montenegro [where Mr. Thaksin has citizenship]or wherever," said Surat Horachaikul, assistant professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

When she does talk policy, Ms. Yingluck has focused on the need for reconciliation in Thailand, particularly following the deadly street battles in the centre of Bangkok last year that saw the army crush protests by "Red Shirt" demonstrators affiliated with Mr. Thaksin and Pheu Thai. Arguing that perhaps a woman's touch is needed to end the cycle of confrontation and violence, she has proposed an amnesty plan that many see as an effort to allow her brother to return to the country without having to go to jail.

Pheu Thai's focus on the amnesty issue has led to widespread rumours that the military would stage another coup before it would allow Mr. Thaksin to return.

Though she has repeatedly said she's more than her brother's proxy in the campaign, Ms. Yingluck has struggled at times to make it clear she's her own politician. "I can make any decision by myself, and he [Mr. Thaksin]has not given me any orders," she said in an interview last week with the Bangkok Post. "However, I am open to Thaksin's or anyone's good ideas which benefit the people and the country."

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