EDITORIAL: Is Thaksin's sister's move heralding big changes ahead?

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - Questions have been asked and analyses written about why Yaowapa Wongsawat is coming out into the open politically. The issue is fascinating because there is little the sister of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra can't do politically as a non-MP. Why does someone who has kept herself behind the scenes for so long have to abruptly enter politics? Why now?

The plot of "All Thaksin's Women" is thickening. First we have his ex-wife, Pojaman na Pombejra, who never talks to the media but who we all know has wielded considerable power in politics. Exactly why she divorced Thaksin remains a mystery, although many people believe it had to do with political or business - not marital - reasons.

Then we have the youngest Shinawatra sister, Yingluck, who was almost a faceless figure four years ago but was thrust into the national and international spotlight in 2011. She doesn't possess Pojaman's enigmatic outlook, but Yingluck's naivety became a political goldmine for the Pheu Thai Party, which reaped gains from her being a "breath of fresh air".

It's understandable why Pojaman had to play "backyard manager" when Thaksin was in power. Yingluck, as we know, was not interested in politics in the first place. Yaowapa is different. She's always there, wielding clout without having to hold any key political position or be a star on the House floor. Yaowapa's role has been largely outside the confines of the parliamentary compound. She was arguably the most active Shinawatra figure at the turbulent rallying grounds of the red shirts in 2010.

Legal bans forced many politicians to play the game from behind the scenes. Yaowapa's connections to Thaksin and his party meant she was among those slapped with a five-year ban. With that ban coming to an end, she is reportedly poised to seek a parliamentary seat in a Chiang Mai by-election. Speculation has already intensified over whether the real idea is to put Yaowapa in a position far higher than that of an ordinary MP.

That speculation is fair. Yaowapa is is too powerful for her to settle for being a supervisor of northern MPs or a political decoy to draw fire away from Yingluck. After all, who else has been so closely related to three prime ministers? Thaksin is her brother. Yingluck is her sister. Somchai Wongsawat is her husband. To assume that Yaowapa, as an MP, would help keep other Pheu Thai MPs in line ignores the fact that she's perfectly capable of doing so from the shadows. To say that, as an MP, she can more effectively get Yingluck out of tight political spots is an equally weak assumption. As far as helping Yingluck goes, what could MP Yaowapa do that non-MP Yaowapa can't?

MP Yaowapa could be stand-in prime minister. It remains to be seen, though, whether the real objective is to help Yingluck or the brother in Dubai. If this is all about Yingluck, maybe Pheu Thai is taking her legal problems - related to her role in its Bangkok gubernatorial campaign - very seriously. Under the unpredictable circumstances of Thai politics, her bold assistance to Pheu Thai gubernatorial candidate Pongsapat Pongcharoen might become a banana skin.

Yingluck's 30 million baht (US$1 million) loan to her husband's company before she became premier is also threatening to become a political time bomb.

Discrepancies in her assets report and the company's statement can be considered a minor detail, or they can be taken to portray the loan as some kind of a scheme. Again, Thai politics has been unpredictable and inconsistent where similar issues are concerned. The late Sanan Kachornprasart was banned from politics and the late Samak Sundaravej was removed from the premiership over issues that were arguably more minor.

If Yaowapa stepping into the spotlight has to do with Thaksin, she might be viewed as an accelerator of controversial schemes like charter overhaul and political amnesty. While Yingluck's non-confrontational style has been her greatest asset, it doesn't help where issues that require aggressive pushing and shoving are concerned.

If Yaowapa is meant to be a substitute for Yingluck, it means either the prime minister is suffering from burnout beyond public view, or Pheu Thai - Thaksin to be exact - is worried she may end up like Sanan or Samak. Whatever the real motive behind Yaowapa's planned political entry, big changes seem to be on the horizon.

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