Leading feminists say that having Yingluck Shinawatra as a candidate for the country's top job is not a milestone in the struggle for greater gender equality, because Yingluck is an unknown quantity and does not necessarily represent women's interests.
Virada Somswadi, a veteran feminist and founder of Chiang Mai University's Women's Studies Programme, said: "She entered [politics] because of other political factors. She cannot be a representative of women's groups, because she has never expressed her vision and stance regarding the protection of women's interests."
Virada is sceptical enough to say that "it would be a waste of time" for women's rights advocates to talk to Yingluck about pushing through issues of gender equality.
However, Suteera Vichitranonda, president of the Bangkok-based Gender and Development Research Institute, is less sceptical. She said that while Yingluck was an unknown quantity, she was willing to wait and see what the Pheu Thai candidate had to say about gender equality and women's rights.
"We must wait and listen," Suteera said. "But have you heard her say anything about that yet?"
Suteera also advised women to look beyond the issue of gender and consider the candidate's other qualifications. She also voiced concern that none of the major political parties were fielding enough women as party-list candidates for the House of Representatives as stipulated in the current Constitution, adding that the media should call for a more balanced gender make-up.
According to the current charter, at least 30 per cent of the party-list candidates have to be women, but the present number stands at a dismal 12 per cent, said Raewadee Prasertcharoensuk, chairwoman of Women Network for Political Reform. The network comes under the National Reform Congress led by influential social critic Prawase Wasi, who was appointed by the prime minister.
Raewadee added that the Election Commission was not trying hard enough to encourage all parties to reach that minimum threshold, which is also in accordance with the international convention on gender equality, of which Thailand is a signatory.
As for Yingluck, Raewadee said women should not be elated simply because Yingluck is a woman, but they should look at all her policies, not just those promoting general equality. They should also see where she stands on justice, social and economic disparity.
As far as gender equality is concerned, Yingluck has not said a single thing so far, Raewadee said, adding that she found former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's remark that his sister was his "clone" rather disturbing.
"Is she really her brother's clone?" Raewadee wondered.
Meanwhile, Subhatra Bhumiprabhas, a former reporter at The Nation and an active feminist, said many feminists were against Thaksin, and this bias made them unenthusiastic about Yingluck. She added that things would be different if Yingluck were to run under the banner of another party.
Subhatra's observations contain some grains of truth. The red-and-yellow political divide runs very deep, and feminists are not immune to it.
As Thaksin's "clone", some feminists can see Yingluck as "a man" or someone who is not representative of women's interests and the struggle for greater gender equality. Yet it would not hurt if feminists lobbied all major political parties to push for gender-related policies and committed themselves to closing the gender-inequality gap. The Pheu Thai Party should not be excluded in this.
This writer fears that some feminists are more concerned about preventing Pheu Thai from forming the next government than about lobbying and pushing for gender-related policies with a party that has Yingluck, or rather Thaksin, at the helm.