In Thailand’s wealthy capital, embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra rarely ventures out in public because of fears for her safety. But in much of the vast rural northeast, her billionaire family are heroes.
The stark contrast reflects a deep political split between the government’s northern strongholds and opposition heartlands where anti-government protesters are threatening to block polling stations on Sunday to prevent Yingluck’s re-election.
Voters in the northeastern region of Isaan, home to a third of the population, have propelled three successive Shinawatra-backed governments to office — the first in 2001 led by Yingluck’s elder brother Thaksin.
In the sleepy, sun-baked village of Baan Dong Yaang in Udon Thani province, villagers say their loyalty to Thaksin is just reward for the cash and care he has lavished on Thailand’s poorest region.
Residents rattle through a list of Thaksin’s good deeds that have transformed their fortunes, including rice farming subsidies, universal healthcare, job-generating micro-loans and university scholarships for the poor.