Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Thailand: Update--Protesters to Mass in Bangkok, Impeachment of PM on Corruption Charges Possible

According to Reuters, anti-government protesters marched in Bangkok on Tuesday (March 25) to generate support for a rally next weekend (March 29-30), just before Thailand holds elections for the Senate, which will play a central role in their aim of removing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, 46.

The demonstrators led by Suthep Thaugsuban, 64, disrupted a general election for the lower house in February, which was annulled by the Constitutional Court on Friday, but seemingly has no problem with Sunday's (March 30) vote in the Senate.

"We will not block Sunday's Senate election, because we need to reform the executive and legislative branches and the Senate is key to our reform plans," Wittaya Kaewparadai, a protest leader, told Reuters.

Thailand has been in crisis since former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, Yingluck's brother, was ousted in a 2006 coup. The conflict broadly pits the Bangkok-based middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of the Shinawatras. 

COMMENT: Sunday's vote is to elect 77 senators for the 150-seat Senate. The rest are appointed and a government attempt to make it a fully-elected body was one of the sparks that set off the latest unrest in November of last year. 

The non-elected Senators are picked by judges and senior officials from agencies such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), members of an establishment whom government supporters see as non-supportive of Thaksin.

The protesters appear confident that Sunday's vote will deliver a Senate majority likely to impeach Yingluck after an investigation under way by the NACC.

Yingluck has until the end of the month to answer a charge of dereliction of duty over a ruinous rice-buying scheme that has run up huge losses and left hundreds of thousands of farmers unpaid. 

The PM is unlikely to attend the NACC hearing, although her attorneys are likely to present her defense.

"The NACC can't put a time-frame on how long it will take to decide whether or not to charge the PM. We have to wait until March 31 to hear how she defends herself," Vicha Mahakun, a commissioner and the agency's spokesman, told REUTERS.

The NACC is one of seven nominally independent agencies that belong to the executive branch, but function outside the cabinet's authority. It has the power to investigate and impeach senior civil servants.

The impeachment process for Yingluck could take several weeks. Any decision to remove her would require the votes of three-fifths of the senators.

In a further setback for the PM, Senate Speaker Nikom Wairatpanich, whom protesters accuse of siding with the government, was suspended from his post last week pending a Senate decision over whether to impeach him for cutting short a debate on amendments to the constitution.

Nikom's deputy, Surachai Liengboonlertchai, is looked upon more favorably by the anti-government side. His role could be crucial if there is a power vacuum and he is asked to nominate an interim prime minister, a scenario that looks increasingly likely. 

The protests in Bangkok appeared to be fading this month as the focus switched to the courts but, waving flags and tooting whistles, Suthep's supporters appear to have been re-energized by the Constitutional Court decision on Friday.

Yingluck's failure to appear at the NACC proceeding is in keeping with her non-confrontational modus operandi and underlines her inability to defend herself against the failed rice subsidy that was largely put into motion by her older brother, Thaksin.

Rice farmers began blocking roads nationwide in response to unpaid rice subsidies that are now half a year late in being paid. Thaksin promised 40% + over-market prices for rice as part of vote-buying populist scheme that propelled Yingluck into power in 2011. 

Since then, the rice-buying scheme has collapsed in scandal, corruption, and bankruptcy with government warehouses literally collapsing from the weight of rotting rice left unsold for months. 

As protests began to spread across the north and northeast of Thailand, considered Thaksin's poorly-executed rice subsidy scheme has failed miserably.
Consequently, rice farmers are now headed to Bangkok to join the "Occupy Bangkok" campaign where they will no doubt encounter Thaksin's notoriously violent "red shirts" who plan to clash with the angry farmers who were duped out of their rice subsides. 
According to THE BANGKOK POST, tearful farmers shouted angrily that they had no money to buy food or to send their children to school because the government has failed to pay them for rice sold under its subsidy scheme, a concept designed by none other than Thaksin.
Tragically, the rice subsidy scheme, which the Thai government reneged on, forced the farmers to borrow money from loan sharks. 
Rice farmers on Tuesday (March 25) agreed to end their rally at the Indochina intersection in Muang district after a two-day protest demanding the caretaker government pay them for crops pledged under the government's subsidy scheme.  
The sad part of the rice subsidy scheme is that Yingluck stood by naively and enabled Thaksin to con her from the beginning as being a PM in name only simply because her billionaire brother was in exile in Dubai and Hong Kong to dodge corruption charges.

Tragically, Yingluck placed far too much trust in her brother. She should have read the tea leaves when Thaksin was deposed as PM by the Thai military and realized that he was intrinsically bad news.

In the end, Yingluck potentially could face impeachment as a result of the sins of her brother, Thaksin.

Perhaps the naive Yingluck will learn, as have others as well, that her brother set her up for failure, as most of the blood that has been spilled is on the PM's hands.