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Thailand's Ousted Prime Minister Denies All Charges as Impeachment Trial Begins

Yingluck Shinawatra's supporters say the trial is a ploy by the junta to stifle her influence and keep her from running in promised upcoming elections.

by Liz Fields
Jan 9 2015, 8:20pm

Photo by Sakchai Lalit/AP

Thailand's military-appointed parliament began impeachment hearings today against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which could see her banned from politics for five years if she is found guilty of failing to end a disastrous rice subsidy scheme that cost the country billions in losses.

Yingluck was removed from office in May following a corruption hearing on abuse of power charges, which the former leader still denies. Her administration was formally ousted days later when then-army general Prayuth Chan-ocha seized control in a coup d'etat and instated himself as acting prime minister, following six months of violent anti-government protests bolstered by royalist "yellow shirts" and the country's elite.

On Friday, Yingluck stood before the National Legislative Assembly, and told them she ran the country "with transparency and fairness, and never violated any laws." She is accused of dereliction of duty in overseeing her government's failed rice subsidy scheme. But the country's first female leader said the trial was in vain, as she had already been pushed from office.

"I was removed from my position as prime minister. I have no position left to be removed from," Yingluck said.

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The current impeachment proceedings will decide whether Yingluck abdicated her responsibilities by neglecting to halt the government's rice subsidy program, which cost the country up to $4 billion in losses, the AP reported. The heavily criticized scheme, which paid farmers double the market price for rice, was a major campaigning policy Yingluck used during the 2011 elections.

Yingluck told reporters outside parliament Friday she was "ready to clarify every charge," and was "confident" she would be absolved of any guilt.

Yingluck still enjoys support from the country's rural poor majority, as does her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in the country's last coup in 2006.

"There are a lot of scapegoats"

After Prayuth declared martial law in May, hundreds of anti-coup protesters rallied in Bangkok to call for the restoration of a civilian government and for the junta to "get out."

Yingluck's supporters have accused the military and Prayuth, who in August was formally appointed as prime minister by the King, of using the impeachment hearing as a pretext to shut the Shinawatras out of politics and keep them from power.

"That's not entirely untrue," Greg Poling, a Southeast Asia studies fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told VICE News. "But there are also certain leaders within the military who are nervous and hesitant to go too far."

These military leaders are possibly fearful of setting off more protests and piercing the relative calm of recent months that has lent credibility to the military governance.

"The military authorities have painted themselves into a corner here," he said.

"Continuing with this impeachment a year later is being driven by hardliners in the junta who want to see [Shinawatra] punished," added Poling, who pointed out that while Shinawatra is seen as the "bellwether." There are simultaneous cases against two former heads of the Senate and the House who also face impeachment for allegedly attempting to amend the constitution.

"There are a lot of scapegoats," he said.

The military has promised to hold elections in 2015, but has yet to set a firm date. Poling said that military impeachment of Shinawatra and other political heavyweights in her Democrat Party would prevent them from running in the upcoming polls and help avoid a repeat of the 2011 election which brought her to power in a landslide.

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Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields

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