Thaksin's nephew to stand in polls

For weeks, Ms Yaowapa Wongsawat - a sister of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra - tried to lie low as protesters in Bangkok hurled abuse at the clan, for allegedly monopolising Thai politics and defrauding the country.

Until the House of Representatives was dissolved on Dec 9, the younger sister of Thaksin was a legislator from Chiang Mai, the stronghold of Puea Thai party.

She was also said to be the "back-up prime minister" to caretaker Premier Yingluck Shinawatra, whom critics say serves as Thaksin's proxy.

But approached by The Sunday Times in Chiang Mai on Saturday, Ms Yaowapa, in her late 50s, defended her family in tones of quiet outrage.

"Khun Suthep says he wants to get Thaksin and Yaowapa and Yingluck out of the country," she recounts, referring to protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban's vow to rid Thailand of her clan's influence.

"But the question is where is the justice for our family, if anybody can drive anybody out of the country?

"I ask for justice for our family," she adds. "We don't ask for any extra privilege, just the same standard as other people."

Billionaire Thaksin helmed Thailand from 2001 till 2006, when he was deposed by a military coup. In 2008, he was convicted on corruption charges which he says were politically motivated. He has lived in Dubai since then to evade the jail sentence.

Thaksin remains popular in the rural north and north-east of the country, where the people have been some of the biggest beneficiaries of his policies, such as a cheap, universal health-care scheme.

This loyalty has helped parties backed by him - including Puea Thai - to return to power again and again.

It is here in this stronghold of the Shinawatra clan that Thaksin and his sisters were born. Chiang Mai province, with a population of 1.6 million, is mainly agricultural although tourism is also big.


In 2008, Ms Yaowapa's husband Somchai Wongsawat took the job of prime minister briefly before being unseated by a court ruling which found his party guilty of electoral fraud, requiring him to serve a five-year political ban.

For the Feb 2 election, he is contesting as the No. 2 candidate in the Puea Thai's party list. The top slot belongs to Ms Yingluck.

It is also here that the caretaker premier, whose house in Bangkok has been surrounded by hostile whistle-blowing crowds demanding that she step down, is spending the holiday season, ahead of her next challenge - snap elections on Feb 2.

Ms Yaowapa says: "I'm proud of Yingluck. She can stand firmly, because the people support her."

At the Chiang Mai International Convention and Exhibition Centre on Saturday, where candidates in the province signed up for the Feb 2 polls, registration was smooth, with no sign of the protesters seen in Bangkok.

Security was light as politicians from Puea Thai, which swept all 10 seats in the province in 2011, came and went. By mid-afternoon, only one other party - Chartthaipattana - was registered to contest there.

This time around, Ms Yaowapa is not defending her seat, partly to defuse talk that her family is power-hungry. Instead, her 35-year-old son, Dr Yodchanan Wongsawat, an assistant professor of engineering at Mahidol University, is making his political debut to contest her seat.

The University of Texas graduate took pains on Saturday to say that he was his own man, even as he laid out plans to promote Thai technology to the world.

"I'm not here for my mother's sake," he stressed. "I decided on it myself."

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