Ex-premier Yingluck takes Thai politics to the garden

Former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra receives foreign media at her house in Bangkok on Feb 12, 2016.
Former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra receives foreign media at her house in Bangkok on Feb 12, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (AFP) - Barred from discussing politics by the Thai junta, ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra opened up her Bangkok home on Friday (Feb 12) to talk about her new passion: vegetables.

Yingluck, Thailand's first female premier, was removed from office by a court shortly before the May 2014 coup.

She has since been buffeted by travel restrictions, banned from politics and tangled up in a negligence case that carries a 10-year jail sentence.

That has limited to her to oblique references to the kingdom's decade-old political crisis and she now attempts to keep in the public eye through Facebook updates and increasingly frequent publicity stunts.

On Friday foreign media were invited for salad at her Bangkok compound where the smiling ex-premier gave a tour of her vegetable garden.

In a peculiarly Thai-style navigation of the curbs on her activities, she gently parried questions on politics in favour of urging her compatriots to eat more salad.

"I am very happy and proud of my salad garden," she told bemused reporters, before offering the assembled press pack take aways of homegrown lettuce.

But she did briefly touch on politics, saying a new military-scripted constitution must be carefully considered before it goes to a referendum in July.

"You will have to live with this constitution. So please make sure it fits with Thailand. It must be people-centric," she said.

The kingdom has been torn by a decade-long struggle broadly between the Shinawatra family and their pro-democracy supporters, and the royalist Bangkok elite, which supports coups with its allies in the military and courts.

Despite her mounting woes, Yingluck remains a galvanising force among Shinawatra supporters and is still in Thailand - unlike her older brother Thaksin, a billionaire former premier who lives in self-exile to avoid jail in the kingdom.

She faces charges of negligence over a multi-billion-dollar rice subsidy scheme which paid farmers up to twice the market rate for their crop.

Critics say the scheme cynically tapped state coffers to prop the Shinawatra's political base, incubated corruption and resulted in massive rice stockpiles.

Yingluck denies wrongdoing, insisting she was just trying to elevate the lot of the rural poor.

Shinawatra family members or their affiliates have won every Thai election since 2001, but have been bloodied by two coups in that time.