Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra focused on female voters during a visit to the Democrat Party's southern stronghold by pushing the Women's Empowerment Fund as a flagship campaign.
More than 6,000 women turned up to cheer her yesterday as the premier led her cabinet to Phangnga for its first mobile meeting in the South since the Pheu Thai-led government took office.
Talking their languagePrime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra talks with residents who gathered outside Phuket airport to meet her yesterday.Ms Yingluck will chair a mobile cabinet meeting, the third of its kind, on the resort island today.
Political analysts said Ms Yingluck seems to be trying to claw back popularity for Pheu Thai in southern areas that have shunned the party because of its links with her brother Thaksin Shinawatra.
Back when the violence in the deep South was only brewing, Thaksin ridiculed it as the work of mere jon krajok, or worthless thieves.
Thaksin also said during his tenure that budget allocations for each area might be based on support for his party, causing an uproar among people in the the region, who are mostly Democrats.
In a bid to address the situation, Ms Yingluck yesterday pledged to push forward with the 7.7 billion baht Women's Empowerment Fund during her visit in Phangnga, ahead of today's cabinet meeting in Phuket.
The fund, similar to the Thaksin administration's village loan fund, is designed to reach out to women, and the amounts of money to be handed out depend on the size of the population.
Seen as a populist scheme, it has been heavily criticised by political opponents.
However, Ms Yingluck said it would enhance women's capacity and boost their role in Thai society.
She said the interior, education, social development and human security, and public health ministries would integrate their efforts to help women.
"I believe that everyone has potential. And the money will be spent to enhance the capacity of all Thai women," Ms Yingluck said.
More than 30,000 women in Phangnga applied to join the fund. Across the country, it drew 4.78 million applicants.
At one point yesterday Ms Yingluck tried to speak in southern dialect, drawing friendly laughs from the group.
"I can't speak the southern dialect but I love the people," she told the gathering. The prime minister also paid a visit to a tsunami memorial in Takua Pa district and expressed sympathy for the loss and damage, vowing to support the development of all coastal provinces.
"We are here this week for a mobile cabinet meeting. The cabinet will approve a number of projects to develop the five provinces in the Andaman," she said.
After paying a visit to the tsunami memorial, Ms Yingluck stopped by a market in Tai Muang district.
Meanwhile, 200 people from Andaman-coastal communities in five provinces yesterday gathered outside Phuket airport to petition Ms Yingluck when she arrives today.
The protesters want Ms Yingluck to address their farmland problems and look into the impact of state projects in the provinces. Five companies of police were deployed to keep order.