Thailand braces as Yingluck verdict due this week

Ousted former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra greets supporters as she arrives at the Supreme Court in Bangkok on August 1.(Photo by Hiroshi Kotani)

Tensions mount as Yingluck judgment day closes in

Ruling on former Thai Prime Minister likely to reignite tension.

Thailand’s Supreme Court is set to rule on a case against former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who stands accused of negligence over a hugely costly farm subsidy program.

But, whichever way the decision goes on Aug. 25, long-standing and bitter divisions risk being reignited.

Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, also a former prime minister, have polarized Thai politics for years. The junta has just about managed to keep a lid on hostilities between their backers and opponents since it took power, but the ruling will be their biggest challenge yet in this regard.

Prosecutors argue the former prime minister knowingly allowed her so-called rice pledging scheme to damage state finances. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison.

On Aug. 1, some 1,000 of her supporters gathered in front of the Supreme Court to chant their support. In her closing arguments, Yingluck once again denied the charges. “I have never neglected anything that cause damage the country and people. The rice pledging scheme is a good and beneficial public policy based on sound economic principles,” she declared.

In 2011, with Thaksin in self-imposed exile having himself been convicted of corruption, Yingluck became Thailand’s first female prime minister on an almost identical platform to her brother.

Aimed at increasing incomes and domestic demand, her economic policies were welcomed by pro-Thaksin farmers. But they were so thorough that they ended up leaving deep scars on the Thai economy.

The rice scheme was introduced almost immediately after she took office. It was ostensibly a loan program but farmers had no obligation to repay the money. The government bought the rice at a premium of around 50% above market rates, causing fiscal deficit to swell.

Critics argue the program was subject to rampant abuse through padded quotes and inappropriate routing of stocked government rice.

The scheme continued until the government was toppled by a military coup in May 2014, but the damage had been done. By one estimate, the government lost over 500 billion baht ($15 billion) on the program. Prosecutors argue Yingluck’s inaction over the scheme constitutes a crime.

With the loan scheme being a subsidy program in all but name, farmers grossly increased their output. The price of the crop spiked while the quality deteriorated. The country’s agricultural sector remains inefficient to this day. – AsiaReview

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