BANGKOK — Pheu Thai politicians have expressed their confidence in former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s defense of the corruption allegations filed against her by Thailand’s national anti-graft agency.
Yingluck, the sister of influential former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, appeared before the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) this morning to counter accusations that she failed to prevent corruption in her administration’s rice-pledging scheme, a policy that helped carry her and the Pheu Thai party into power in 2011.
Under the scheme, the government bought rice from farmers at above-market prices, which led to huge stockpiles when the state was unable to sell the paddies on the international market without incurring major losses.
According to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), the rice scheme cost the state more than 500 billion baht in damages due to corruption and mismanagement.
The junta-appointed NLA has been tasked with deciding whether the NACC’s charge – that Yingluck failed to stop the rice program’s alleged graft – is grounds for impeachment. If found guilty, the former Prime Minister will face a five-year ban from politics.
Critics say the case is a politically-motivated effort to curb the influence of the Shinawatra family, whose parties have won every national election since 2001.
In her testimony this morning, Yingluck insisted that she was innocent of the charges, and that the rice-pledging scheme benefited the nation and Thai farmers in general. She also argued that the current constitution does not grant the NLA authority to impeach her.
"I was removed from my position as Prime Minister. I have no position left to be removed from," Yingluck told the lawmakers, who were appointed by the junta following the 22 May coup that ousted her government.
Pichit Chuenban, former Pheu Thai MP and the head of Yingluck’s legal team, told Khaosod that he thinks Yingluck provided an excellent rebuttal to the NACC's allegation.
"I want to know how NACC will take responsibility in its groundless accusation against the former Prime Minister," Pichit said. "However, what concerns me now is the fact that people who are opposed to Yingluck will build pressure on the NLA."
The NLA hearing is set to resume on 16 January, and the legislative body will deliver its verdict within 30 days. Pitchit said his legal team will meet to discuss their strategy on 12 January.
Worachai Hema, another former Pheu Thai MP, said he gives Yingluck an "A" for her performance today.
"However, Mr. Vicha Mahakhun, the committee member of the NACC, gets an F," Worachai said. "If you look at Yingluck's confident explanation, she countered Vicha with precise and accurate information, facts, and reasons. She managed to destroy all of Vicha's accusations."
Worachai also stressed that neither the Pheu Thai Party nor the umbrella organization of the Redshirts, the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), were responsible for a small rally in front of the Parliament building this morning.
"There has been an allegation that the UDD organized those people. That is false," said Worachai. "The UDD has nothing to do with it. Don't accuse us falsely."
Political gatherings are currently banned under the junta, which has maintained nationwide martial law nearly eight months after the coup.
Yingluck is widely seen as a "proxy" for her brother Thaksin, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006. Thaksin fled Thailand shortly before a court convicted him of corruption in 2008 and has been living in exile ever since, but retains significant influence over his political dynasty.
Yingluck led a pro-Thaksin government from 2011 to late 2013, when she dissolved Parliament to call a snap election in the face of mounting anti-government protests, which were sparked by her party's attempt to absolve Thaksin's corruption conviction.
Yingluck was unseated shortly before the 22 May coup in a court ruling that found her guilty of abuse of power for transferring a national security chief in 2011.
Several weeks later, the military staged a coup against what was left of her administration. The junta leader, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, was later chosen as Prime Minister by the NLA, a body whose members he handpicked.
The NACC is also requesting the Attorney-General take up a case against Yingluck in Criminal Court. If found guilty, Yingluck could face up to 10 years in prison.
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