Pressure on Thailand’s embattled government mounted yesterday, when a flagship rice-buying scheme vital to its support stumbled closer to collapse and the opposition filed legal challenges that could void Sunday’s disrupted election.
The crisis in the rice scheme is a humiliating blow for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra — it helped sweep her to power in 2011, but has become mired both in allegations of corruption and growing losses that are making it increasingly hard to fund.
Thai Minister of Commerce Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan told a news conference yesterday that a Chinese state firm, Pei Ta Huang, terminated a contract to buy 1 million tonnes of rice out of concern it would run into problems due to an investigation by Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission.
State-run Krung Thai Bank joined other lenders in saying it would not provide loans urgently needed to rescue the program.
Protesters disrupted voting in one-fifth of constituencies in Sunday’s election. The incomplete poll means Yingluck could head a caretaker administration for months, unable to make policy decisions, while demonstrators continue to block parts of the capital.
The opposition Democrat Party boycotted the election and yesterday filed challenges to its legality. It is also trying to get Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party disbanded for holding the vote under abnormal circumstances, with Bangkok under a state of emergency.
“We will argue that the election violated the constitution,” Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said. “In a separate petition, we will file for the dissolution of Pheu Thai Party.”
The rice program was one of the populist policies pioneered by Yingluck’s elder brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006.
Losses to taxpayers, estimated at 200 billion baht (US$6 billion) a year, have fueled protests against Yingluck’s government, and payment problems now risk alienating farmers at the heart of her support base.
The Election Commission said it was looking into complaints over alleged abuse of authority by the government during Sunday’s vote and would meet today to discuss disruptions before and during the poll.
Additional reporting by AP