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Thailand's first female leader takes helm of divided nation

Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, faces the opposition of palace and military factions who see her brother as a usurper of royal privileges.

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A parliamentary vote Friday confirmed Yingluck Shinawatra as Thailand’s first female prime minister, capping a remarkable comeback by forces allied to her older brother, ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. But now Ms. Yingluck faces a struggle to overcome the deep social and economic divisions that have fed Thailand’s political warfare.

Yingluck led the opposition Puea Thai Party (PTP) to victory in July 2 elections, using her support in the countryside and grittier parts of urban Thailand to top outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who appealed to middle-class voters and wealthier southern provinces.

Yingluck was chosen to lead the PTP by Mr. Thaksin, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006. The PTP was formed from the ashes of another pro-Thaksin party that was elected in 2007, only to be dissolved by a court the following year.

While Yingluck’s six-party coalition has a comfortable margin in parliament, her government is unlikely to complete its four-year term. Nationalist groups are already girding for possible street protests, which have become the face of Thailand’s chaotic democracy. Last year pro-Thaksin red-shirt demonstrators occupied parts of Bangkok for several weeks, provoking clashes with security forces that left over 90 dead.

Among her first challenges, say analysts, will be delivering on the PTP’s campaign promises, including higher wages, increased farm subsidies, and corporate tax cuts. Her advisers have tried to tamp down expectations amid inflation warnings from the central bank, which recently raised interest rates. Economists point out that unlike indebted industrial countries, Thailand can afford a further fiscal stimulus as its public debt is below 43 percent of gross domestic product.

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