Thai politics became even more chaotic today when the country's former prime minister was impeached by a legislative body, which was appointed by a military-backed government.
The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) went through the motions of a secret ballot to impeach former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra over corruption related to a rice pledging scheme intended for small farmers that she supervised.
The program involved the government buying the rice output of local farmers at high a price before reselling the rice to the global market. But critics saw the rice subsidy program as a disastrous populist policy that was implemented to benefit the support base of Yingluck's party in the north part of the country.
Yingluck is the first female prime minister of the kingdom, and whose Pheu Thai party-led coalition won the election in 2011. However the military has ruled Thailand since May 2014. The military has drafted a new constitution and appointed several bodies to rule the country and implement electoral and political reforms as part of the normalization process. The NLA is one of the institutions created by the military to oversee the country's transition.
The impeachment reflected the desire of the military to block Yingluck's return to politics.
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) January 23, 2015
Security forces were on a state of alert around the parliament during the assembly.
— แก้วมาลา Kaewmala (@Thai_Talk) January 22, 2015
Yingluck has denounced the decision of the legislature, which also banned her from holding public office for five years. She faces several criminal charges (also related to the corruption case) which could see her imprisoned for up to ten years.
Yingluck released a statement on her Facebook, after cancelling a press conference in Bangkok as requested by the authorities.
A translated copy of her statement, as reported on by the Pheu Thai party website, highlights:
I would like to reaffirm that I am innocent. I would like to thank the minority that voted against the impeachment. I praise you for your strength in upholding the principle of justice. Despite the fact that the process to impeach me was rushed and due process was ignored to the extent it stripped me my basic rights which every Thai citizen is entitled to, I believed that I did my best to present my case.
I insist that the Rice Pledging Scheme is beneficial for the farmers and the country, and the scheme did not incur losses as alleged. Any figures on the losses from the scheme have all been manipulated with bias towards me and with a hidden agenda used to eliminate a political opponent. Worst of all, the rice farmers’ lives have become a political tool.
In the matter of the charges filed by the Attorney General, the former prime minister also said,
It is regrettable that the many so called coincidences that I spoke of yesterday happened once again today. Just an hour before the NLA vote on impeachment, the Office of the Attorney General decided to file criminal charges against me for negligence of duty. This is in conflict with the comments made by the head of prosecuting team that there is not yet enough probable cause. The Office of the Attorney General is an institution that has long played a key role in ensuring justice. Yet their actions on this issue are deemed to be questionable.
In her statement, she decried what she called the absence of democracy and the rule of law, particularly for the farmers.
While the impeachment did not come as a surprise, some provided their analysis of the situation.
How would U feel if U woke up 1 day, realized U were living in Banana Republic ruled by MilitaryJunta w/o Rule of Law/civil liberties/rights — Kris Koles (@KrisKoles) January 23, 2015
— John Le Fevre (@photo_journ) January 23, 2015
Troubled times are brewing, and as long as the country is under martial law, without public participation in governance and accountability, the purge of political opponents will continue.