Sat, Jan 24, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Former Thai PM banned from politics

CHARGES LAID:Yingluck Shinawatra contested the charges that brought the ban, which are related to a subsidy program, saying the scheme was good for the economy

Reuters, BANGKOK

Thai authorities dealt a double blow to former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her powerful family yesterday, banning her from politics for five years and proceeding with criminal charges for negligence that could put her in jail.

The moves could stoke tension in the politically divided country still living under martial law after the military seized power in May last year, toppling the remnants of Yingluck’s government after months of street protests.

The ban and the legal case are the latest chapter in 10 years of turbulent politics that have pitted Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, himself a former prime minister, against the royalist-military establishment which sees the Shinawatras as a threat and reviles their populist policies.

Yingluck faces criminal charges in the Supreme Court and if found guilty could spend up to 10 years in jail, the Thai Attorney General’s Office said.

The charge against the country’s first female prime minister, who was removed from office for abuse of power in May days before the coup, concern her role in a scheme that paid farmers above market prices for rice and cost Thailand billions of dollars.

The capital’s streets were quiet yesterday, as residents adhered to the military junta’s ban on public gatherings.

Security was tightened around the parliament building where the military-stacked legislature voted Yingluck guilty in a separate impeachment case for failing to exercise sufficient oversight of the rice subsidy scheme.

The retroactive impeachment at the Thai National Legislative Assembly carries with it a five-year ban from politics.

A decision to ban Yingluck from politics required three-fifths of the vote from assembly members, who were hand-picked by the junta of coup leader and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

About 100 of the 220 members are former or serving military officers.

Prayuth said he had not ordered the assembly to vote against Yingluck, who remains popular among poor people in rural areas, who handed her a landslide electoral victory in 2011 and benefited from the rice scheme.

The vote against Yingluck was expected by her supporters. About 150 members of the family’s political movement have been banned from politics in the past decade, including four who had served as prime ministers.

Shinawatra supporters say the courts and assembly are biased and aligned with an establishment intent on blocking her powerful family from politics.

Yingluck disputed the charges in an appearance at the assembly on Thursday and said the scheme boosted the economy. She did not appear at the assembly yesterday.

Prayuth’s government has urged Yingluck’s supporters to stay out of Bangkok this week over concerns of trouble, although a repeat of the protests that have dogged the country in recent years is unlikely.

Authorities have been quick to stifle any public protest, and political gatherings are banned under martial law.

In a radio broadcast made earlier yesterday, Thai Army Chief General Udomdej Sitabutr called on the population to respect the assembly vote.

Yingluck’s fortunes have been similar to those of her billionaire brother.

Both led populist governments toppled in coups, despite being elected in landslides, and both were subjected to legal action and street protests by pro-establishment activists.

After being ousted in a 2006 coup, Thaksin fled Thailand to avoid a 2008 jail term for corruption. He has lived abroad since, but retains a strong influence over Thai politics.

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