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May 28, 2017

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Yingluck to be 'clone' of ex-PM brother

BANGKOK -- Yingluck Shinawatra, the woman tipped to be Thailand's first female prime minister, is a political novice whose biggest asset is also her most controversial — her family name.

She is widely seen as the political proxy of her older brother, the fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who himself describes Yingluck as his "clone" — a description she says underlines their similar thinking.

"We are alike in the sense that I have learned from him in business and I understand his vision, how he solves problems and the way he built everything from the beginning," the mother-of-one told AFP on the campaign trail.

The photogenic 44-year-old, who has a business-oriented background, has defied skeptics who said the initial excitement over her nomination as the main opposition candidate for prime minister would soon fizzle out.

With her telegenic looks, relaxed demeanor and carefully choreographed stage routines, Yingluck — 18 years junior to her controversial big brother — has proven a hit on the campaign trail.

"There's no question she's getting a bounce from excitement over the idea of Thailand having a woman prime minister, the novelty of a fairly young, attractive candidate, and because the Democrats are running such a lackluster campaign," said Thailand expert Michael Montesano.

And on top of that is her name — a big plus in the eyes of Thaksin's fans but a turnoff for supporters of the establishment.

Thaksin remains a hugely divisive figure in Thailand. He was ousted in a 2006 military coup and fled the country in 2008 before a court sentenced him in his absence to two years in prison for corruption.

He is still adored by many rural and working class voters for his populist policies while in power, but is reviled by the ruling elite who see him as corrupt and a threat to the revered monarchy.

Yingluck herself, however, is seen as a fresh face largely untainted by scandal. Accusations by her political foes that she lied in court to protect her brother appear to have had little impact on her popularity.

In contrast to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, she has refrained from negative campaigning, instead keeping the focus on her Puea Thai Party's policies and stressing the need for reconciliation after years of civil unrest.

"She's able to look natural in front of big crowds in a way that the prime minister just cannot, no matter what he does," said Montesano.

Yingluck was born on June 21, 1967, into one of the most prominent ethnic Chinese families in northern Chiang Mai province, the youngest of nine siblings.

Until recently president of Thai real estate firm SC Asset Corp., she graduated in political science from Chiang Mai University and earned a master's degree in public administration at Kentucky State University in the United States.

She returned to Thailand to work for one of Thaksin's companies as a trainee in the early 1990s, going on to take various positions within her brother's business empire.

She is a former president of the mobile telephone unit of Shin Corp., the telecoms giant founded by Thaksin that was at the centre of a scandal over the tax-free sale of the family's shares in the group in 2006.

While her business credentials are well known, observers say she has given few concrete clues about what kind of leader she would be.

"She is at the moment sticking by what Thaksin has asked her to do in a very detailed way," said a Bangkok-based Western diplomat. "I don't think we have yet seen what she is capable of."

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