Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Thailand: Update--Constitutional Court Finds PM Yingluck Shinawantra, 46, Guilty, Future Tenuous

According to CNN, Thailand's Constitutional Court has dismissed caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office, ruling that she is guilty of violating the country's constitution for reassigning a senior security official in 2011.

"The defendant has abused her position as Prime Minister," said the judge in the ruling. "Her prime ministership has...ended."

The court ruled that ministers who attended a meeting over the decision were also to be removed from office.

The charges were brought about in a lawsuit filed by anti-government senators. They accused Yingluck of abusing her power by unlawfully transferring National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri from his role in September 2011, alleging the move was intended to benefit her Puea Thai Party and a family member.

Thawil was replaced by the then national police chief, whose role in turn was later given to Priewpan Damapong, a relative of Yingluck.

In March 2014, Thailand's Supreme Administrative Court ruled the transfer unlawful, and Thawil was reinstated. 

COMMENT: Yingluck led a caretaker administration since Parliament was dissolved in December 2013, ahead of a general election in February that was disrupted by anti-government protesters. The Court subsequently ruled the election invalid.

The protests began in November 2013, sparked by Yingluck's government's botched attempt to pass an amnesty bill that would have paved the way for the return of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, who was ousted as PM by the Thai military in 2006.

Thaksin, a billionaire, has always been viewed as the real power  behind Yingluck. 

After Thaksin was overthrown by the Thai military in 2006, he has lived in self-imposed exile to avoid a corruption conviction which he says was politically motivated. 

The anti-government protesters, drawn mainly from Bangkok's middle class, royalist establishment, allege that Yingluck is her brother's puppet, and seek to purge Thai politics of her family's influence.

In contrast, the "red shirt" supporters of Yingluck and her brother, many of whom are poor and hail from rural areas, accuse the court of bias against their side. 

Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai political party was dissolved by the court in 2007, and the following year the court forced two Thaksin-linked prime ministers from office.

Observers are now watching how both camps respond to the verdict. Political tensions have occasionally spilled over into deadly violence during the current crisis.

"For the first time in Thailand's history of political discord, we have opposing camps threatening to stage demonstrations in relative proximity to each other in Bangkok," said Paul Quaglia, director at PQA Associates, a Bangkok-based risk assessment firm. "We could see some trouble, frankly."

Yingluck also faces a charge brought by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) over a controversial state rice-buying scheme. The Commission's ruling is expected this month.

Our readers will be kept abreast of the ramifications of the Prime Minister's ouster in the days ahead.