Last Friday morning, Thailand’s ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appeared at the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) stacked by the country’s ruling junta to defend herself against possible impeachment.
In her hour-long statement broadcasted on national television, Yingluck directly attacked the charges against her. She said she no longer has a political office to be impeached from, a fact that may yet prove consequential as some in the NLA look to verify the legal basis of charges brought against her at a time when the country also lacks a working constitution. She also suggested the process was quite hastily drawn up, which may have compromised its fairness.
Yingluck also staunchly defended her administration’s controversial rice-subsidies scheme. The plan is at the center of the impeachment charges were brought by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), which alleges she failed to prevent $16 billion in losses and corruption. But Yingluck insisted she ran her government honestly and the scheme helped nearly two million farmers. She also maintained that there was no evidence that she was directly involved in alleged corruption, something which even the NACC admitted previously. Arguing that the deeply divided country needed to move forward and reconcile, Yingluck pleaded with the body to be impartial.
Many doubt that this is possible, given the NLA is stacked by the ruling junta which took power after ousting the rest of Yingluck’s government weeks following her own removal last May. Nonetheless, some say that the junta itself faces its own dilemma ahead of the body’s verdict, which is now expected on January 23 and requires a three-fifths majority to pass.
The generals may want to see a guilty verdict, as it would ban Yingluck from politics for five years and perhaps even put her behind bars. That would both justify their takeover as well as further erode the influence of the Shinawatras, led by her self-exiled brother Thaksin, who they detest but have won every national election since 2001. Yet Yingluck’s impeachment and imprisonment may also infuriate her Red Shirt supporters, sparking a fresh round of protests and ending months of relative calm since the military seized power.
True to form, the junta has already warned that a political gathering of more than five people would violate martial law, as The Diplomat reported last week. Though the proceedings have not seen massive protests thus far, there is no telling if they will emerge and paralyze the capital again once a verdict is issued. It is also still far from clear what the decision will be, with some reports suggesting that the NLA still does not have the requisite votes for impeachment.
As Thailand continues to grapple with what Thai political commentator and professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak once called “the right mix” of elected sources of power and unelected centers of moral authority, the fear is that overreach by one faction may once again turn fragile peace into another round of violence.