Election Q&A: What next for Thailand?

A man reads a newspaper with a cover photo of Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok (4 July)

Yingluck Shinawatra, the youngest sister of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has led the opposition to a resounding election victory, promising to bring stability and reconciliation.

What happens next?

After an overwhelming victory in Thailand's first general election since 2007, the Pheu Thai party led by Yingluck Shinawatra has announced it will form a coalition with four smaller parties.

Pheu Thai won 265 seats out of a possible 500 - enough to form a single-party government.

However, the formation of a coalition - which will control about 60% of parliament - is being seen in Thailand as a shrewd political move, as it will make it easier for Ms Yingluck to push through reforms promised during her election campaign and create a sense of stability.

Negotiations are already said to be under way for cabinet posts, with Pheu Thai reportedly eyeing the Interior, Defence, Finance, Foreign and Transport ministries. These portfolios are seen as crucial to implementing the party's economic platforms - and of facilitating any possible return of the ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Can Thaksin Shinawatra return to Thailand?

Thaksin Shinawatra, a champion of the rural and urban poor, was elected prime minister twice, in 2001 and 2005. Removed from power in a military coup in September 2006, he is currently living in self-imposed exile in Dubai, evading a two-year prison sentence for corruption.

Despite his exile, Mr Thaksin's influence has loomed large throughout this election process. He is seen as the de facto leader of the Pheu Thai party, and its resounding win had much to do with Mr Thaksin's name and political brand.

The clear-cut result has eased fears of imminent turmoil. But analysts say the calm could be short-lived if Pheu Thai seeks an amnesty, allowing the tycoon to return to Thailand without serving any jail time and creating a possible showdown with the military and others who oppose him.

His supporters hail him as the only politician who really addressed their concerns; his detractors say he is a dangerous corrupt demagogue.

Pheu Thai has issued a statement saying that it does not support an amnesty. Mr Thaksin too has been quick to seek to allay fears, saying that he is happy living in Dubai and wants to retire, and has no plans to return as prime minister. Ms Yingluck's critics have their doubts; they fear she will move to absolve her brother of his crimes.

What role will Thailand's military have?

The military has long played a central role in Thai politics. Since Mr Thaksin was deposed from power by the military in a 2006 bloodless coup, the country has been plagued by internal division. Last year the army crushed the prolonged anti-government protests, during which more than 90 people were killed.

The political turbulence has been largely focused around those who love him and those who hate him - the partisan groups of activists the "red-shirts" and "yellow-shirts".

Yingluck Shinawatra has said her "first urgent issue is how to achieve reconciliation". But there are concerns over how the military might react to this election result.

Outgoing Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, himself a retired general, said the army would accept the poll outcome, saying the military had "never entertained any idea of doing anything that will damage the country".

The military insists it is staying out of politics - yet the rumours persist. The defence minister was recently forced to issue the latest in a series of public denials that the army was plotting another coup. Thailand's generals have made such promises before, and analysts say much depends on whether Mr Thaksin does decide to stay away.

What are the economic implications?

Thailand's stock markets and the Thai currency rose in value amid hopes of political stability after Ms Yingluck's party won an absolute majority in Sunday's election.

But business leaders have expressed concern over whether the country can afford the populist reforms which have been promised by Pheu Thai.

The party has pledged to raise the minimum wage; improve transport connections to the north of the country; make healthcare more widely available and affordable; and continue to fund microfinance schemes in rural areas.

The party has also promised to provide tablet computers to about 800,000 new school children each year.

These populist measures will require huge extra spending and could stimulate Thailand's economy - the second-largest in South East Asia.

But with tax revenue already low and plans to cut corporate tax, analysts say the new government may find itself with a bigger budget deficit than planned, pushing up public debt and adding to inflationary pressure.

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