Thailand’s anti-corruption agency yesterday weighed charges of negligence against Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, as the leader of protests aimed at forcing her from power suggested a televised debate after weeks of refusing to talk.
The charges relate to a disastrous rice subsidy scheme that paid farmers above the market price and has run out of funds, adding to the government’s woes as farmers — normally the prime minister’s biggest supporters — demand their money.
More than 300 government supporters gathered outside Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission in north Bangkok where the charges were due to be discussed with Yingluck’s lawyers, as riot police stood guard inside the complex.
Because of the protest, the hearing had to be moved to a different location. Yingluck, who has stayed mostly out of Bangkok in recent days, did not attend.
The anti-government protesters elsewhere in the city, whose disruption of a general election this month has left Thailand in paralysis, want to topple Yingluck and erase the influence of her brother, ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, seen by many as the real power in the country.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, known for making dramatic gestures without always following through, said he was willing to appear in a live television debate with Yingluck after weeks of refusing any form of talks.
“Just tell me when and where,” he told supporters. “Give us two chairs and a microphone and transmit it live on television so the people can see.”
Yingluck gave a guarded response.
“The talks have to have a framework though I am not sure what that framework would look like,” she told reporters in the town of Chiang Mai in the north, a Thaksin stronghold.
“But many parties have to be involved because I alone cannot answer on behalf of the Thai people,” she added.
The anti-corruption agency is investigating at least 15 cases against Yingluck and her party members, ranging from allegations of corruption in water projects to moves to make Thailand’s senate a fully elected body, which a court has ruled illegal.
It alleges Yingluck was negligent for not ending the rice subsidy program, which it says was riddled with corruption. If found guilty, she faces removal from office and a five-year ban from politics.