Thai lawmakers elected US-educated businesswoman Yingluck Shinawatra as the country's first female prime minister today, setting the stage for the 44-year-old political novice to take charge of a volatile nation that's been deeply divided since her brother was ousted in a 2006 coup. The vote comes a month after Yingluck's Pheu Thai party swept the country's July 3 elections, but Thailand's people remain split. Yingluck will face the immediate challenge of keeping the country clear of the sometimes violent unrest it has witnessed since the army toppled her now-exiled brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Yingluck's swift rise in the space of just a few months—from political unknown to holder of the nation's highest government job—is largely attributable to the fact that she is Thaksin's sister. Despite living thousands of miles away in Dubai to escape a two-year prison sentence for graft he says was politically motivated, Thaksin remains wildly popular among supporters at home. Now, Yingluck must prove she is not her brother's puppet, as critics claim, and deal with the controversial issue of his possible return from self-imposed exile under a general amnesty, which would enrage his opponents and could destabilize Thailand.