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Thailand gets its first female leader

The sister of Thailand’s fugitive former prime minister wins landslide election victory.

Opposition Pheu Thai Party candidate Yingluck Shinawatra acknowledges supporters at the party headquarters in Bangkok on Sunday after winning the election.

AP PHOTO

BANGKOK — The sister of Thailand’s fugitive former prime minister led his loyalists to a landslide election victory Sunday, a stunning rout of the military-backed government that last year crushed protests by his supporters with a bloody crackdown that left the capital in flames.

The results pave the way for Thaksin Shinawatra’s youngest sister, widely considered his proxy, to become the nation’s first female prime minister — if the coup-prone Thai army accepts the results.

The Southeast Asian kingdom has been wracked by upheaval since 2006, when Thaksin was toppled in a military coup amid accusations of corruption and a rising popularity that some saw as a threat to the nation’s much-revered monarchy.

The coup touched off a schism between the country’s haves and long-silent have-nots — pitting the marginalized rural poor who hailed Thaksin’s populism against an elite establishment bent on defending the status quo that sees him as a corrupt autocrat. Last year’s violent demonstrations by “Red Shirt” protesters — most of them Thaksin backers — and the subsequent crackdown marked the boiling over of those divisions.

On Sunday, though, they played out in a vote that will decide the shape of Thailand’s fragile democracy.

The Pheu Thai party was led to an overwhelming victory by Thaksin’s 44-year-old sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, a U.S.-educated businesswoman hand-picked by her billionaire brother.

He has called her his “clone.” The party’s slogan is: “Thaksin Thinks, Pheu Thai Acts.”

From exile 3,000 miles away in the desert emirate of Dubai, the 61-year-old Thaksin hailed the outcome. “People are tired of a standstill,” he said in an interview broadcast on Thai television. “They want to see change in a peaceful manner.”

At her party headquarters across town, Yingluck told an electrified crowd of supporters: “I don’t want to say that Pheu Thai wins today. It’s a victory of the people.”

With 98 percent of the vote counted, preliminary results from the Election Commission showed the Pheu Thai party ahead with 264 of 500 parliament seats, well over the majority needed to form a government. The Democrat party of army-backed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had 160 seats.

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