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[ 2015-01-24 ]

Double blow for Yingluck

Becomes first politician to be impeached after NLa's 190-18 vote to back nacc move against her; ex-speakers avoid ban

FORMER PM Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday became the first Thai politician to be impeached, after the National Legislative Assembly voted overwhelmingly to support the anti-graft agency's move against her.

Just hours before the NLA's 190 to 18 vote, public prosecutors told a press conference that the Office of the Attorney-General had resolved to press criminal charges against her at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders in connection with the rice scheme.

If found guilty, Yingluck could face up to 10 years in prison, according to an OAG spokesman.

For critics, the timing of the press conference was suspicious.

Yesterday's impeachment verdict will result in Yingluck being banned from holding political office for five years. The ban began yesterday, according to NLA vice president Surachai Liengboonlertchai.

In the past moves to impeach political office holders never succeeded due to the lack of sufficient support from members in Parliament. Support from at least three-fifths of the 220-member NLA was required to impeach targeted politicians.

The embattled Yingluck still insisted she was innocent yesterday of the National Anti-Corruption Commission's charge that she was negligent in her duty in connection with her government's corruption-plagued rice-pledging scheme.

"I affirm that I am confident of my innocence," she said in a statement posted on her official Facebook page after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) asked her not to hold a post-verdict press conference at the SC Park Hotel.

The ex-PM also condemned the junta-appointed parliament's ver?dict.

"Democracy has died in Thailand today, along with the rule of law. That move to destroy me is still ongoing and I face it now," she said, adding that she believed reconciliation can only happen if Thailand is governed by laws "that are fair to all sides".

She insisted that her government's rice-pledging scheme was a good project and had not caused any dam?age. She added that the reported loss of over Bt500 billion stemming from the project was unfairly blamed on her with the goal of destroying her politically.

Yingluck and other politicians from Pheu Thai Party gathered at the hotel, which is owned by her family, as the NLA voted on the impeachment cases against the ex-PM plus former parliamentary speakers Nikom Wairatpanij and Somsak Kiartsuranon.

The NLA voted 120-95 and 115-100, respectively, not to impeach former deputy Parliament president and Senate speaker Nikom and former Parliament president and House speaker Somsak.

The NCPO said the junta had nothing to do with the decision by the NLA and the assembly members simply acted in unity to vote for Yingluck's impeachment.

"The NLA members voted with their conscience," said NCPO spokesman Colonel Winthai Suwari.

The spokesman also said that no movements had been found with the goal of causing unrest following the NLA impeachment decision. There were only complaints by people dissatisfied with the vote, he said.

NLA president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai also denied there was outside influence on the assembly's final decision.

"The NLA members came to this decision based on the evidence presented and the existing laws," he said, denying rumours the military had lobbied the NLA for a guilty verdict.

Pheu Thai Party politicians warned that the verdict would lead to widespread anger from the ex-PM's supporters.

"People feel the pain. The NLA is creating more cause of conflict … This is going to anger the people," former party MP Wiang Worachet said.

Polpoom Wipatpoomiprathet, another former Pheu Thai MP, said that the verdict was part of a move aimed at "eliminating" the Thaksin regime, in reference to the political establishment led by ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Many Yingluck supporters, including red-shirt leaders close to Pheu Thai, warned that her impeachment would lead to a new political chapter fraught with political violence and division.

After the NLA verdict, Yingluck's nephew Panthongtae posted on his Instagram account an image of a fist and the message: "Are you ready, Thai people?" It was in white lettering on a black background.

Yingluck's niece Paetongtarn posted a message on her Instagram account: "This was not the first time and may not be the last. We have become used to the pain. Thank you everyone for your encouragement."

Meanwhile, Democrat Party politician Sathit Pitutecha said he believed political persecution would not succeed if the politicians involved did not commit the wrongdoing as alleged.

"People in the Thaksin regime have never admitted to their faults. They often claim that they are innocent and they are unfairly persecuted. They accuse courts of being unfair or having double standards," he said.

Another Democrat politician, Nipit Intarasombat, urged the NCPO to make sure Yingluck does not leave the country now that public prosecutors have resolved to file criminal charges against her.

Observers close to the NCPO said yesterday that Yingluck's impeachment would further weaken the Shinawatra camp at a time when Pheu Thai supporters are not likely to take to the streets.

A source from the junta said red-shirt supporters and Pheu Thai politicians were dissatisfied with the verdict, but they would not make any public moves without an order from fugitive former PM Thaksin.

However, if the red-shirts decide to launch street protest, it might prove to be beneficial to the NCPO, as it might decide to delay the next general election and extend its stay by citing political unrest, the source said.

In a related development, leading financial and business figures said yesterday they did not expect the impeachment of Yingluck to hurt the economy, as they believed law and order would be maintained.
The Nation January 24, 2015 1:00 am
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