Thailand’s fiery protest leader yesterday denounced the government’s battered rice-buying scheme as corrupt, piling on the pressure after a weekend election did nothing to restore stability in the politically polarized country.
Suthep Thaugsuban and his supporters have been trying to topple Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra since November last year, prompting the government to announce a state of emergency ahead of Sunday’s vote, which was boycotted by the opposition.
The rice program was among the populist policies pioneered by Yingluck’s brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006.
Generous subsidies for farmers were a centerpiece of the platform that swept Yingluck to power in a landslide election win in 2011, but have left Thailand with vast stockpiles of rice and a bill it is struggling to fund.
Losses to the taxpayer, estimated at 200 billion baht (US$6 billion) a year, have fueled protests against Yingluck and payment problems risk alienating farmers at the heart of her support base in the poorer north and northeast.
“Yingluck took farmers’ rice more than seven months ago and hasn’t paid them,” Suthep told supporters yesterday, even as another warrant was issued for his arrest.
“Some of them have killed themselves and some of them are crying in front of the television because they don’t have a penny... The government said the rice-purchasing policy was to help farmers but instead the policy became part of the government’s corruption machine,” he said.
“Farmers who took their rice to milling houses received just over 10,000 baht when the price they were guaranteed was 15,000 baht,” Suthep said at a rally at one of the protest sites in Bangkok’s central business district.
“The rest of the money went into the mouths of the dogs... Each of these dogs is fat,” he said.
Yingluck and her government are being investigated by an anti-graft panel for alleged irregularities in the rice scheme.
That and other cases going through the politicized courts could dissolve her Pheu Thai Party and ban top officials.
The Criminal Court approved arrest warrants yesterday for 19 protest leaders, including Suthep, for violating the state of emergency.
The decree bans political gatherings of more than five people, despite the fact that thousands have gathered at key intersections every night since it was introduced last month.
Thai Labor Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who is in charge of the state of emergency, has threatened to arrest protest leaders several times but has yet to act.
Suthep faces charges of murder related to violence in 2010 when, as deputy Thai prime minister, he sent in troops to crush protests by Red Shirt supporters of Thaksin. More than 90 people were killed in the ensuing violence.
Suthep is due to appear in court today in that case.