June 29 - Thaksin Shinawatra's sister, Yingluck, takes Thailand's elections by storm, with the Puea Thai party leading in latest polls against the ruling Democrat party. Arnold Gay reports.
Yingluck Shinawatra is taking Thailand's elections by storm, with her Puea Thai party leading in latest polls against the ruling Democrat party. Dismissed by sceptics as a proxy for her fugitive brother, Yingluck has moved from strength to strength. Her personal ratings have risen multiple-fold, with her leadership approval rate up from 13 percent to about 33 percent. Another poll showed the Puea Thai Party would win 51.5 percent of the vote, up from 43 percent previously. But some analysts believe the true star power comes from Thaksin Shinawatra. (SOUNDBITE) (Thai) PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT RAMKHAMHAENG UNIVERSITY BOONYAKIAT KARAVEKPHAN, SAYING: "Of the people who want to choose Yingluck, only 15 percent do so because of her, the remaining 85 percent choose her because of Thaksin." The 43 year-old businesswoman has followed a tried and tested path taken before by her brother - tapping support from the rural and lower income classes. Here, in the rural north and northeast heartland, it's clear where the hearts of these villagers lie. And the former Prime Minister has shown he's keenly aware of his appeal here. From his base in Dubai, Thaksin rallies his supporters, promising a return to a time when he provided cheap healthcare and development aid. (SOUNDBITE) (Thai) FORMER PRIME MINISTER THAKSIN SHINAWATRA VIA PHONE, SAYING: "Red-shirted village be prepared. Good things are about to come, such as village funding." At least 38 communities have declared their allegiance to Thaksin, formally becoming "red shirt villages" in solidarity with the red-shirted movement that backs him. Yingluck has promised to revive Thaksin's populist policies and raise living standards, but also wants to pursue reconciliation that would include an amnesty for her brother. Thaksin's critics fear he will then seek vengeance on them for ousting him from power. At the same time, Thaksin's supporters fear the Puea Thai Party could suffer the same fate as his two previous ruling parties, which were dissolved in 2006 and 2008. Either outcome carries a big risk of further political turbulence and possible unrest. Foreign investors have been pulling out of stocks and bonds. Thailand's benchmark index, the SET, is down about seven percent since May, when elections were first announced. Thais go to the polls on Sunday, July 3. Arnold Gay, Reuters.