Thai anti-graft body slaps fresh charges on ousted PM Yingluck

09 May 2014


Troubles are multiplying for Thailand's ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. After her removal by a Constitutional Court on Wednesday on the grounds that she had illegally transferred a civil servant to another post, separate proceedings to impeach her were launched on Thursday in connection with a farm subsidy programme - a process that could result in Yingluck being banned from politics.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission voted unanimously to indict 46-year-old Yingluck on charges of dereliction of duty in overseeing the controversial rice subsidy programme – but did not clarify how Yingluck could be impeached from an office that she no longer holds.

The Constitutional Court's decision to remove Yingluck and the move to impeach her have emboldened supporters of the opposition, who disrupted elections in February and continue to campaign for a suspension of democracy and for an appointed government.

The Election Commission, which has been accused of sympathising with the protest movement, said on Thursday that it was not sure whether elections could be held on 20 July, as it had previously proposed.

''We may have to postpone it,'' Phuchong Nutawong, the election commission's secretary general, told reporters.

Backed by the Bangkok establishment, anti-government protesters are battling to eradicate the influence of Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister and the founder of a political movement that has won every election since 2001, drawing its strength from populous agrarian provinces in the north.

Thailand's economy has slowed significantly since the latest crisis began six months ago. Both sides are warning about the prospect of increased violence.

Yingluck's impeachment case centres on a costly policy to subsidise rice farmers that the anti-corruption commission said the government had mismanaged.

Like the court's decision removing Yingluck from office, which legal experts have criticised for being a disproportionately harsh punishment for irregularities in the transfer of a civil servant, the decision to begin impeachment proceedings appeared to some to be rushed and based on debatable legal reasoning.

Vicha Mahakun, the spokesman of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, said Msingluck was being held accountable for damage to the country, not for corruption.

''Even though at this stage it appears that the evidence is not clear that the accused took part in corruption or whether she allowed corruption or not, the accused did not govern the country as announced in Parliament,'' Vicha said.

The policy, which paid farmers twice the market price for rice, had resulted in ''devastating damage to the country'' and was an opportunity for fraud, Vicha said. The government has accumulated debt totaling 695 billion baht, or about $21 billion, to finance the scheme, according to experts, although some of that debt will be recouped when the government sells its rice stocks.

Yingluck's party has accused the courts and independent agencies such as the anticorruption commission of being part of a conspiracy to remove her government from power.

The caretaker government is headed by Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, a former business executive who was hastily named acting prime minister on Wednesday after Yingluck's removal. On Thursday, he was also put in charge of the finance ministry. Because of its caretaker status, the government is barred by law from making major funding decisions.

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