Thai ex-PM in impeachment hearing

Published: Friday 9th January 2015 by The News Editor

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Thailand’s military-appointed legislature has started impeachment hearings against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Analysts say the move is aimed at ensuring the ousted leader stays out of politics for the foreseeable future.

The charges, dismissed by Ms Yingluck’s supporters as politically motivated, relate to her alleged role in a disastrous government rice subsidy scheme.

The politicians are expected to vote on their verdict by the end of the month. If impeached, Ms Yingluck could be banned from politics for five years.

She was forced from office in early May by a court verdict that declared she had illegally transferred the nation’s security chief.

That verdict came one day before Thailand’s anti-graft commission indicted her on charges of dereliction of duty in overseeing a widely criticised rice subsidy program.

Ms Yingluck, who came to power in a landslide election in 2011, had insisted for months that the nation’s fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts, and finally the army, which staged a May 22 coup that wiped out the remnants of her administration.

Her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was also ousted by the army in a 2006 coup.

Analysts say today’s hearing is more about the curbing the power of the Shinawatra family and keeping them out of politics.

The junta has spoken of holding elections this year, but no date has been set.

“The impeachment is geared to keep Yingluck at bay. If she’s allowed to run in the next election, there’s a good chance that she might win,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, the director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

If Ms Yingluck is prosecuted, however, the government “could risk incurring the wrath of the pro-Thaksin camp. At the same time, it would also deepen the polarisation and divisions that we have seen in Thailand.”

The National Legislative Assembly, hand-picked by the junta and dominated by active and retired military officers, will deliberate on whether Ms Yingluck neglected her duty and failed to halt the rice subsidy programme.

It accumulated losses of at least 4 billion US dollars (£2.65 billion) and temporarily cost Thailand its position as the world’s leading rice exporter.

The scheme, under which the government paid farmers double the market price, was a flagship policy that helped Ms Yingluck’s government win votes in the 2011 general election.

Arriving at Parliament early today, Ms Yingluck told reporters she was “confident” she would be exonerated and said she was “ready to clarify in every charge”.

Last year, she said the anti-graft commission’s deliberations in the case against her were unfairly rushed.

Yesterday, the legislature began separate impeachment hearings against a former house speaker and a former senate speaker for allegedly trying to amend the constitution, which the army suspended when it seized power.

Published: Friday 9th January 2015 by The News Editor

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