June 5, 2014 12:00 am JST

In politics, big gains, many pains

TAMAKI KYOZUKA, Nikkei staff writer

BANGKOK -- More than a few women have ascended to lead Southeast Asian countries, but many have come from powerful families. Unable to fully exhibit their true potential, they have tended to become caught within power struggles.

     "I served with pride as an elected prime minister during the two years and nine months of my term," said former Thai leader Yingluck Shinawatra at a televised news conference after being ousted in early May by the Constitutional Court. "Even after losing my job, I will continue to protect democracy," she said.

Family ties

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who referred to himself as the "CEO premier," is Yingluck's older brother. He garnered overwhelming support from farmers by promoting low-cost health care and other policies benefiting low income earners. However, he was removed from office by a military coup, after irritating the wealthy.

     From the beginning of her term in August 2011, Yingluck was criticized for being manipulated by her brother. She was unable to strike a balance between Thaksin supporters and anti-government protesters, and in the end she lost power, just as her brother did.

     Southeast Asia's pioneer of female leadership was the late Corazon Aquino, the 11th president of the Philippines. Her husband, Benigno Aquino, Jr., was allegedly assassinated by then dictatorial regime of Ferdinand Marcos. A homemaker, she was reluctant to enter politics, but decided to run for office after being petitioned by 1 million people to campaign as a symbol of anti-dictatorship.

     She remained corruption-free throughout her term, a rare feat in a graft-rife region. She brought an end to the 20 year dictatorial regime of Ferdinand Marcos, though her term saw many coup attempts.

     Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, is a daughter of Aung San, a general and the architect of the country's independence. Her charisma, helped by her father's prestige, brought her public support. She was placed under house arrest for many years during military rule.

     Ikuo Iwasaki, a professor at Takushoku University's Faculty of International Studies in Japan, explains the rise of women in Southeast Asian politics.

     "Social class in Asia tends to be fixed," said Iwasaki. "In politics, women were accepted if there were no male successors. They have been welcomed more in Southeast Asia, where women achieved social advances earlier than in Japan and the U.S."

     Taking power, however, is clearly no guarantee of prolonged success.