BANGKOK, Thailand -- If she becomes Thailand's first female prime minister after a nationwide election on July 3, Yingluck Shinawatra may start tribunals against the current government and military for their role in the deaths of 91 people during the army's assault against an anti-coup insurrection last year.

The military, which has staged 18 successful or attempted coups since the 1930s, is worried that an increasingly likely win by Mrs. Yingluck would also enable her to investigate the army's 2006 coup which toppled her thrice-elected brother, Thaksin.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, his supportive generals, and their loyal officials, have reason to be afraid.

Thaksin Shinawatra described his sister as his "clone," and the slogan for their Puea Thai Party, or Party for Thais, is: "Thaksin Thinks. Puea Thai Acts."

Their tribunals could blame Mr. Abhisit and the military for using snipers, armored personnel carriers and other weapons in Bangkok's crowded streets against thousands of anti-coup Red Shirt protesters and others, including many who fought back, during April and May 2010.

"If there is evidence, then there must also be fair trials," Mr. Thaksin said when asked about the killings during a Der Spiegel magazine interview published on June 15.

"I recently read that an arrest warrant has been issued for [Libya's leader] Moammar Gadhafi, for ordering his troops to use live ammunition and deploying both snipers and tanks against protesters. Abhisit also did all that," self-exiled, Dubai-based Mr. Thaksin said.

"I can confirm that the kind of wild allegations made against me -- that I ordered a violent crackdown, killings -- that doesn't just square up with the facts if you look at the chronology of events," Mr. Abhisit said in a televised Australian Broadcasting Corp. interview shown on June 15.

"Should we hand the country to the very people who torched our nation's assets and public property?" Mr. Abhisit said in a recent election speech.

"Don't let anyone further harass the country. Make it known that we are done with mob rule, violence and intimidation."

Revengeful Red Shirts are blamed for setting fire to 20 buildings in Bangkok on May 19, 2010 including luxury shopping malls, banks, the Stock Exchange and other offices, after the army crushed their bamboo barricades.

The Reds say the focus should be on the 91 people -- mostly civilians -- who were killed during their nine-week insurrection which demanded the 2006 coup be reversed so Mr. Thaksin could return to Thailand as a free man.

"They opted for more deaths, so they can press the charge of killing people against me," Mr. Abhisit reportedly wrote on his Facebook page.

On Thursday (June 23), Mr. Abhisit planned to stage his final election rally in the wealthy Ratchaprasong intersection which the Red Shirts had barricaded, and where several people died during the army's final May 19, 2010 assault.

"What the Democrat Party and Mr. Abhisit are doing now is to provoke the Red Shirt people," said a top Red leader, Thida Thavornseth.

The wealthy Mrs. Yingluck, who celebrated her 44th birthday on Tuesday (June 21), is Mr. Thaksin's youngest sister.

She has no political experience and is a top executive in her family's telecommunications and property businesses.

The July 3 election is for 500 seats in Parliament's lower house, contested by several parties who want to form a coalition government.

Some parties in Mr. Abhisit's coalition offered to switch their loyalty to Mrs. Yingluck if she wins.

All sides in the election offer similar polices, including cheap health care, financial assistance for the poor, investment in big infrastructure projects, subsidized commodity prices, improvement in education, and other tax-funded plans.

This Buddhist-majority, Southeast Asian nation is a capitalist, non-NATO U.S. ally, and is not expected to change its foreign outlook no matter who wins.

Voters are focused mostly on the personalities of Mr. Abhisit and Mrs. Yingluck, and the possibility of Mr. Thaksin's return.

Mr. Thaksin is dodging a two-year prison sentence for a corrupt land deal which enabled his ex-wife buy choice Bangkok real estate for a low price during his five-year administration.

After the 2006 coup, the government seized $1.2 billion of his assets because of a telecommunications stock market deal.

"The government stole my money," Mr. Thaksin said.

"During the past five years, it is obvious that the coup was unable to solve any problems," Mrs. Yingluck told the Bangkok Post.

"It only inflicted extreme pain on my family," she said.

Most published polls indicate Mrs. Yingluck and her Puea Thai party candidates are more popular than Mr. Abhisit and his Democrat Party.

Many Thais wonder if the military will tolerate her victory or stage another coup if Mr. Abhisit is defeated after only 30 months in office.

"Reconciliation takes time to achieve," said retired Maj. Gen. Sanan Kachornprasart, who helps lead the mid-sized Chart Thai Pattana party in the ruling coalition.

"But if we don't do anything at all, a civil war may erupt after the election. And this time around, the body count may be higher," he recently told the Bangkok Post.

Immunity from prosecution is the real game behind all the campaign speeches on both sides.

Immediately after their coup, the U.S.-trained military cloaked itself in immunity from prosecution and now wants to keep its generals out of court, including Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha who played a role in the putsch.

Gen. Prayuth was later promoted to his current powerful post as army chief.

The generals and Mr. Abhisit also draped themselves in additional immunity when they clamped much of Thailand under a lengthy "state of emergency" during and after their crackdown on the Red Shirts' 2010 insurrection.

Mr. Thaksin also wants immunity, or "amnesty," before he returns to Thailand.

Mrs. Yingluck said if she becomes prime minister, she will grant a blanket "amnesty" to several people, including her brother, and she is also expected to return Mr. Thaksin's seized assets.

Thai analysts warn an amnesty could cause a violent backlash by anti-Thaksin generals, politicians and their supporters.

Mr. Thaksin and his candidates want to "subvert the rule of law" by granting him amnesty, Mr. Abhisit recently said in a live televised debate hosted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

While the Reds tend to support Mr. Thaksin's return, they also seek equal justice, wealth distribution, and tax-funded assistance, especially for poor agricultural and industrial workers.

They sometimes simplistically cast their struggle as a class war between deserving Red "prai" -- a feudal description of lower-class citizens -- against an selfish "ammart" or ruling elite, which includes Mr. Abhisit, the military, royalists and many rich politicians and businessmen.

Mr. Thaksin, however, is a billionaire and his sister is also rich.

But they successfully positioned themselves as pro-Red, while advancing their personal financial interests and boosting Bangkok's nouveau riche who are challenging traditional power centers, institutions, and "old money."

Some analysts suspect Mr. Thaksin and the Reds cynically use each other for their own gains.

But their alliance has shaken Thailand's rigid hierarchy and ancient "kraab" system of physically cowering in obedience.

"I will vote for Yingluck's Puea Thai party, but I don't support the Red Shirts," said one white-color executive living in northeast Thailand's Isan region, which is a Red stronghold.

"I like the way Thaksin's people make fast decisions and are efficient, but I am not interested in the policies or activities of the Reds," she said.

An anti-election, royalist alliance loosely known as the Yellow Shirts opposes allowing voters to choose a government, and demanded people boycott the poll or "Vote No."

They erected hundreds of signs depicting politicians as dogs, lizards, monkeys, buffalos and other animals unworthy of parliament.

The Yellows' boycott could subtract votes from Prime Minister Abhisit's candidates, because Mrs. Yingluck and her Red supporters enjoy strong enthusiasm for the polls.

In 2008, the Yellow Shirts blockaded Bangkok's international and domestic airports, stranding 350,000 passengers worldwide for eight days during their protest against Mr. Thaksin's politicians, who were in power at that time.

More than 70 experienced assassins are meanwhile roaming Thailand, and have shot dead several politicians and their supporters who represented various parties, police said.

Authorities are offering rewards up to $3,300 for their capture, and created a wanted poster ( online.


Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism. His web page is:

Asia Correspondent

(Copyright 2011 Richard S Ehrlich)