Thai PM faces impeachment, a day after being forced to quit (+video)

Thailand's anticorruption agency indicted Yingluck Shinawatra, a day after her court-ordered resignation. The rulings narrow the already slim space for political compromise.

By , Correspondent

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    Anti-government protesters carry signs against ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as they march in central Bangkok May 8, 2014. Thailand's anticorruption agency brought charges against Yingluck on Thursday that could see her banned from politics.
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She left court Wednesday with a promise to keep fighting for what her voters believe in. Yet on Thursday, the political stock of Thailand’s ousted Premier Yingluck Shinawatra fell to new lows when an independent anti-graft agency charged her with corruption, which could lead to her impeachment. 

Members of the National Anti-Corruption Committee (NACC) voted unanimously to indict Ms. Yingluck for dereliction of duty over a controversial government rice subsidy program. They recommended that the semi-elected Senate initiate an impeachment, which could result in a five-year ban from her holding public office, though it's unclear how this could apply to a former premier.

However, the new ruling, coming barely 24 hours after Yingluck’s court-ordered resignation, makes a political comeback hard to imagine. Political commentators say her opponents are pushing for the move as a way to ensure she remains sidelined and potentially put on trial for her part in the rice program. 

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“[Thursday’s ruling] means that even out of office Yingluck could be forced to face the consequences of her actions in government,” says Puangthong Pawakapan, an associate professor of international relations at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. According to Ms. Puangthong, the judicial assault on Yingluck will continue until her whole government loses legitimacy. 

“[The opposition] wants all of her cabinet to go and they are likely to keep pushing the courts to attack her until they achieve this scenario,” she says. 

Nine of Yingluck’s cabinet ministers were also forced to resign on Wednesday. Two dozen remain in the cabinet and, on paper, they still rule the country. The former commerce minster Nitwattumrong Boonsongpaisan was promoted to caretaker prime minister shortly after yesterday’s ruling.

But some have speculated Mr. Nitwattumrong could also be implicated in the rice program, which was launched by Yingluck and her party in 2011 after winning a landslide election victory. 

The program pledged to pay farmers far above market rates for their rice. It ran into financial problems after it left the government with huge stockpiles of rice they couldn’t sell without losing more money.

Critics say it was a move to win over rural voters that wasted billions of dollars of taxpayers' money. 

The NACC ruled that Yingluck, as chairperson of the National Rice Policy Committee, was responsible for the losses because she signed off on the  transactions. Her lawyer denied this, saying she didn't attend regular meetings and was not aware of everything that was going on. 

On Thursday, a member of the NACC told reporters it was also looking into potential criminal charges against Yingluck that would mean she and other members of her inner circle could be forced to pay back money lost because of the rice scheme.

Opposing rallies 

The latest turn in Thailand’s complicated political saga suggests that a compromise between its deeply divided political sides is unlikely. It also left many wondering who is really in control of Thailand.

“How can we have a government if the court can just pick and chose who they want in power?” says Pornchai Pak, a supporter of Yingluck, who drives a taxi in the capital. “Those protesting are not prepared to accept the fact that most people in Thailand do not like their politics.”

He is one of hundreds of thousands of pro-government “Red Shirts” who are considering marching in Bangkok on Saturday to show their disgust at the court rulings. They say this is not the first time their politicians have been unfairly discredited by the judiciary.

In 2008 two prime ministers backed by Yingluck's hugely popular brother Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister now living in exile, were ousted in similar rulings. 

Yingluck's opponents, who have occupied parts of Bangkok, have vowed to rally on Friday. At least 25 people have been killed in protests since November. The country is generally polarized between rural and blue-collar voters who support the government, and urban middle-class residents who call Thaksin and his party corrupt and a threat to the country's monarchy. 

Escalating tension

Yingluck's supporters are more numerous than those of her opponents, but the two sides have largely avoided direct clashes for the last six months. As tensions escalate however, analysts warn those pushing for peace between the two sides will be increasingly drowned out. 

On Thursday, police confirmed a grenade had been thrown at the house of one of the Constitutional Court judges who took part in Wednesday’s ruling against Yingluck. No one was hurt in the incident but security officials warned people to be vigilant in case of further attacks. 

“No one has full control of the country,” says Puangthong. “The government has been severely depleted and could face further dismissals, the courts are controlling the political stage but their supporters are in a minority... [pro-government] Red Shirts have the mass of the people, but that may not be enough.”

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