Thailand elected a female Prime Minister for the first time in history last week - Yingluck Shinawatra. Her coming to power testifies to the fact that women continue to conquer the world of politics in Asia. However, there are special features that make Asian female leaders distinctive from their European counterparts.
Yingluck Shinawatra is a younger sister of the former ruler of Thailand Taksin Shinawatra. He was overturned as a result of a military coup in 2006 and was put on international wanted list on charges of corruption. Yingluck studied in the United States and ran a family business for many years. She came into politics after her brother had been toppled. Yingluck Shinawatra chaired the party list for the parliamentary vote and won the elections (she received 265 of 500 seats in the parliament). On August 9, Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, appointed her the Prime Minister of the country.
The Philippines, another country of South-East Asia, is already used to having female leaders. Corazon Aquino, who ruled the Philippines from 1986 to 1992, became a legendary persona for the Philippines. She was the first woman to have become the first female president in Asia. Not only did she manage to head the country, but she also ended many years of dictatorship of Ferdinand Marocs and made the USA pull out its army bases from the country. Corazon was born into a wealthy family. Like Yingluck Shinawatra, she studied in the United States.
Gloria Arroyo became the first Vice President in the history of the Philippines (1998-2001) and the nation's second female President (2001-2010). Arroyo was ruling the country for ten years.
A whole dynasty of female leaders was formed in Sri Lanka. Sirimavo Bandaranaike deserves special attention. In 1960, she became the first prime minister not only in Asia, but in the whole world. Being a daughter of wealthy landowners, she married Solomon Bandaranaike, a would-be prime minister of the country. Her husband was murdered in 1959, and Sirimavo became the leader of his party and then of the whole country. She took the position of the prime minister three times, her most recent term ended in 2000. Sirimavo Bandaranaike spent 40 years in big politics.
Sirimavo was a very skillful diplomat. She was a socialist in her political orientation and managed to maintain friendly relations with the USSR and China. Having India as the main economic partner, she built ties with Pakistan.
Sirimavo's daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, was also a political figure. She served as the President of Sri Lanka from 1994 to 2005. Chandrika's mother chaired the government of the country during the first years of her presidency - the world has never seen such political practice ever before. The first tandem appeared in Europe only in 2010 in Finland, although the Finnish president and the prime minister were not relatives.
Asia's best-known female politician is, perhaps, Indira Ghandi of India. The repeated prime minister of the country was a daughter of the first head of the government of independent India, Jawaharlal Neru. Ghandi was running socialist-oriented policies and was on friendly terms with the USSR. However, Ghandi did not make India a socialist state, nor did she have any fights with the West. She contributed in the collapse of Indian's sworn enemy, Pakistan. The country split into two with Bangladesh appearing in the east of the erstwhile single nation.
In 1984, Ghandi ordered the Indian army to interfere in the conflict between the Hindus and the Sikhs in the state of Punjab (the troops took the side of the Hindus). As a result, a Sinkh suicide bomber killed Ghandi.
India is a parliamentary republic, in which the president does not enjoy much power. The president remains the formal head of state, though. The Indian President is also a woman - Pratibha Patil. Unlike other Asian politicians, she is not a daughter, a sister, or a wife of some other prominent politician.
Benazir Bhutto, a Pakistani politician, is perhaps one of the world's best-known women in politics. She served the prime minister of the country in 1988-1990 and in 1993-1996. Bhutto was the first woman in a Muslim country to have achieved such success. She was a rather emancipated woman for her country. She studied in Harvard and in Oxford, and didn't wear any head-scarves in her youth.
The relations between Pakistan and India improved greatly during Bhutto's stay in power. She was fighting against illiteracy in her country, but it was corruption that ruined her career. She was hiding abroad from 1998 to 2007, but returned to the country four years ago. Her party had all chances to win the elections in Pakistan, but the terrorist act on December 27 ended her life. It seemed that the whole world was mourning Bhutto.
Bangladesh, that used to be a part of the territory of Pakistan, is currently chaired by a woman - Prime Minister Hasina Wazed. A daughter of the first President of the country, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is not so famous as Ghandi or Bhutto, but she has something which she will be remembered for in history. In 1996-2001, she became the first prime minister in Bangladesh, who stayed in the office during the whole term. Unlike Bhutto, she managed to survive the attempted assassination, and her political career continued.
Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, was ruled by President Megawati Sukarnoputri (2001-2004). She was a daughter of the first president of the country, Ahmed Sukarno. She managed to revive the economy that collapsed as a result of the crisis in 1997-1998, but her term in the office was marred with the bloody terrorist act in Bali, in which 202 foreign tourists were killed. Sukarnoputri introduced direct presidential elections, but fell victim to that novelty herself: she lost the election in 2004.
Turkey is considered to be the most advanced Muslim state. In 1993-1995 Turkey was ruled by Tansu Ciller, a daughter of the governor of Bilecik Province. Ciller studied economy in the United States. She took different positions in the government of Turkey. The list of her achievements includes the army reform. She also managed to convince the USA to include the Kurdish Work Party on the list of terrorist organizations. Accusations of corruption destroyed her career, though. Ciller was not jailed, but she had to leave the world of politics in 2002.
Asia's most emancipated women live in the East. However, there were no female presidents or prime ministers in China, Japan or Korea (there were empresses in those countries, though).