UPDATE 2: Former prime minister and now-impeached Yingluck Shinawatra did not hold a press conference after the military junta told her not to (or according to the junta ‘just’ told her to “consider carefully”). Instead she posted a statement on Facebook (see below) and while she was “expecting” today’s outcome, she denounced the vote as there was clear “prejudice against her.” She also said “Democracy has died in Thailand today, along with the rule of law. That move to destroy me is still ongoing and I face it now.”
UPDATE: Thailand’s junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has voted overwhelmingly to impeach ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra over her government’s ill-fated rice subsidy scheme, a move which see her banned from politics for five years.
Of the 208 lawmakers who participated, 190 voted to impeach the former prime minister, well past the required 132 votes.
Former House speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont and former Senate speaker Nikhom Wairatpanich both survived impeachment votes Friday.
EARLIER: Thailand’s Attorney General is to indict former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for negligence. She will face criminal charges in the Supreme Court. If found guilty she could face 10 years in jail.
When the so-called National Legislative Assembly (NLA) votes in secret today whether or not to impeach former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, former House speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont and former Senate speaker Nikhom Wairatpanich, the question will not so much be about their fates, but more about the implications of the verdicts that go beyond a possible ban from politics for five years.
First, there’s the obviously the odd precedent that Yingluck was already forced out of office in early May 2014 by the Constitutional Court, which found her guilty in the illegal transfer of the National Security Council secretary Thawil Pliensri in 2011. Ten other cabinet members were also sacked in the same ruling and while the vacant spots were quickly filled, it left another power vacuum (after parliament was dissolved and the snap-election successfully ruined) during an already very volatile situation after over half a year of anti-government protests, further paving the path for the military coup just two weeks later.
The primary reason Yingluck is in the dock again is her government’s rice-subsidy policy in which the government bought rice from the farmers for 50 per cent more than the usual market price, hoping to push prices internationally before selling it on for a profit. While this populist measure was popular and is credited as one of the main factors behind Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party overwhelmingly winning the 2011 elections, it quickly turned sour as Vietnam and India emerged as the world’s top rice exporters and Thailand struggled to offload the 18 million tonnes of rice that it had stored away. The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) accused Yingluck of failing to prevent damages that cost the country an estimated US$15 billion.
The seems little doubt how the hand-picked, military-stacked NLA will vote today. Three-fifths of the total votes are needed – 132 of 220 members – to impeach Yingluck. It is highly unlikely that the NLA will dance out of line, especially the 100+ military officers that are expected to tow the junta’s line, despite a strong denial of this by the junta leader and current Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha himself.
With the looming five year ban from politics dangling over Yingluck’s head and that of the other Pheu Thai politicians, this appears a thinly veiled scheme to banish everyone and everything that is associated with Yingluck’s brother Thaksin. The stillpinfluential former prime minister was toppled in a military coup in 2006 and has been living in self-imposed exile since 2008. His critics would say that it is his continuing role in Thai politics that is the cause of the current crisis.
But to a much bigger degree it is the fact that those supporting the military coup can’t let go of Thaksin either – and that’s the main motivation of the coup itself and all the so-called ”reform” plans to prevent Thaksin from ever ruling again, regardless of the near-certain disenfranchisement of a large portion of the Thai electorate that could cause even more discontent.
Yingluck herself said in her closing statements on Thursday that the five-year ban from politics would be “a violation of my basic rights” and the case, “solely a hidden agenda against me, it is politically driven.” And indeed, today’s impeachment vote in the NLA appears to be just a show-trial to bolster the military junta’s claims to be fighting against corruption – any other outcome besides impeachment today would only spark outrage by extreme anti-Thaksinites (both the protesters from last year and those in power now).
And the damage is being already done. The NACC (overzealously urging the NLA to ”make history” today) has already announced that it will prosecute other members of the former government, while the Office of the Attorney-General may also
enthusiastically throw in a criminal charge against Yingluck this morning shortly before the NLA vote actually begins.
While the likelihood of fresh protests by the anti-coup and (mostly, but not exclusively) pro-Yingluck/Thaksin red shirts remains low for now (thanks to continuing martial law and most of the leadership being muted), today’s likely outcome will only deepen Thailand’s ongoing political schism.
About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut blogs extensively about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and works as an international freelance broadcast journalist. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.