Don Mills: Thailand showdown; embattled prime minister was educated in Kentucky

Thai office workers greeted anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban during his march Friday in Bangkok to encourage people to boycott Sunday's election.
Thai office workers greeted anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban during his march Friday in Bangkok to encourage people to boycott Sunday's election. AP

BANGKOK, Thailand — Kentucky politics must have looked tame to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand when she attended Kentucky State University in Frankfort to get her master's degree in public admistration in the early 1990s.

Now, at 46, she is Thailand's first woman prime minister. She has been forced to call a special election for today because of political pressure on her regime to determine if her party — the Puer Thai Party — can continue in office. But procedures for voting could take up to six months, the courts ruled last week.

If her party wins, she is the favorite to obtain the necessary majority of the 500-member parliament to again win her post. Her term should have lasted until 2015 but because of anti-government protesters and demonstations, numbering tens of thousands, she felt compelled to call the special election to quell the protests.

But that effort has failed.

In the last three months, at least 10 people have been killed and the injured number over 500. Yingluck and her party have gone out of their way to avoid confrontation with the protesters. She has pleaded with them to go home but allowed protestors to take over some government buildings.

In one case, protestors broke down the gates to the army compound as they charged into the building. But once they were inside, soldiers offered them water and medics performed free health checks.

Protesters have numerous complaints against Yingluck and her governing party, arguing that the government has ignored southern Thailand, including the Bangkok area with about 10 million residents, that corruption is bad and that her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, runs the country from his self-imposed exile in Dubai and London, something her supporters strongly deny.

Her brother also has Kentucky connections. He got his graduate degree from Eastern Kentucky University in criminal justice in 1975, and went on to get his doctorate from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Tx.

But his spare time at EKU and Texas campuses proved personally profitable to him as he observed students at both using cell phones and realized that he could put in a similar system in Thailand just as China, Russia and other countries did during the same time period.

Now a billionaire, Thaksin used his own term to establish a universal health care, help rural people with their schools and other projects and crack down on drug users — all policies which endeared him to the rural voter.

Yingluck has one additional problem involving the one million rice farmers in Thailand. She and her government, by parliamentarty vote, have pledged to subsidize them with about $4.3 billion to make rice prices equal to the global market price and to pay them the difference by this weekend with bond money. As a result, a full probe is underway by the opposition.

In the last elections, held in July 2011, the governing party received 15.7 million votes, compared with 11.4 million votes for the opposing Democrat Party.

What will happen to the future of Thailand is a good question. Even if Yingluck wins in time, there is no assurance that the protests will stop.

Or if she loses, what then will heppen to the influential Shinawtra family and their spporters. It is a compicated and confusing system.

But one thing is for certain: Thailand is a deeply divided country whose future is unclear, to say the least.