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Ex-PM Thaksin haunts Thai election from afar

By Sara Sidner, CNN
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Fierce rivalry in Thailand's elections
  • Yingluck Shinawatra is the sister of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra
  • She is running in Thailand's elections trying to unseat the current prime minister
  • Her critics say she is a 'puppet' for her older brother, who lives in exile

Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand (CNN) -- Yingluck Shinawatra is a successful business woman and the younger sister of the polarizing former prime minister and billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 military coup.

He is living in exile to avoid jail time at home. He was sentenced in absentia on abuse of power charges and now faces charges of terrorism in connection with last years violent political protests. His lawyers say the charge "violates logic, law, and any claim of hopes for reconciliation."

Thaksin's sister, Yingluck, has what you might call rock star status, with her good looks and charisma, especially in the northeast. But when supporters were asked what they liked about her the answer often included her brother's name.

"I like her very much because she is Thaksin's sister, I already like Thaksin," said 51-year-old housewife Veerapat Chaosuan. She spoke to CNN as she gripped her grandson tight waiting at the train station to see Yingluck who was scheduled to board a train along one of her campaign stops in Ubon Ratchathani.

Yingluck's critics worry she is simply a puppet for her brother especially after his comment that she is his "clone" but she says she has a mind of her own.

Thailand goes to the polls

"The cloning means the logical thinking and the management style because I work with him since like [my] first job. So I learned a style from him. But I can do on my own. I can make decision with the leadership of the company or the party, " Yingluck Shinawatra continued, adding that she is "not a puppet."

Current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva doesn't buy it. He thinks former Prime Minister Thaksin's fingerprints are all over her campaign.

"He's got a lot of money. He's got his own network political and other in other circles. So he continues to exert and influence but the issue is that influence is now being exerted for his own interest at the cost of the country and we want to move the country beyond that," the current prime minister said.

The biggest worry he and his party supporters have is that Yingluck will make a move to try and bring her brother back to Thailand by offering special concessions to keep him out of jail.

Yingluck brushes the accusation aside. "I can't do anything special for my brother," she said.

But Abhisit is skeptical. "That's a way of cloaking the fact that she will try to enact a more blanket amnesty so Thaksin can get his," he said.

For a man who is not running in the election he is being talked about sometimes more than the candidates who are in the race.

The current government in power says it was Thaksin who fueled the flames behind the 2010 political protest that turned Bangkok's commercial district into a war zone for months; a situation that hurt the Thai economy and left dozens of its people dead.

Thaksin's supporters blame the military who they say stands firmly with Abhisit's government because he was appointed to the position two years after the military coup.

This is Thailand's fourth election in seven years, an exhausting tale of the bumpy path to democracy this country has endured with a still-uncertain ending.