Former Thai PM Yingluck denies charges at impeachment hearing

Ousted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (centre) delivers her opening statement to the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly in Bangkok on Jan 9, 2015. Ms Yingluck denied all charges against her on Friday, at the start of impeachm
Ousted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (centre) delivers her opening statement to the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly in Bangkok on Jan 9, 2015. Ms Yingluck denied all charges against her on Friday, at the start of impeachment proceedings that could result in her being banned from politics for five years. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - Ousted Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra denied all charges against her on Friday, at the start of impeachment proceedings that could result in her being banned from politics for five years.

 "I have run the country with transparency and fairness, and never violated any laws," she told the assembly appointed by the military after the coup in May last year.

Ms Yingluck, who helmed the country from 2011 till she was thrown by the Constitutional Court two weeks before the coup, is accused of negligence over a rice subsidy scheme under which the  government bought paddy from farmers at some 50 per cent over market prices. Shortly after she was unseated, the military threw out the remnants of her caretaker government, citing escalating danger from the deadlock triggered by prolonged street protests.

The now defunct rice pledging scheme, which critics allege say is riddled with graft, is estimated to have run up losses of about 500 billion baht.

"Even though there was no evidence that she was involved in the corruption… as the head of the cabinet she should take responsibility," said NACC member Vicha Mahakhun shortly before Ms Yingluck addressed the assembly.

Ms Yingluck argued later that the cost of the scheme could not be considered as a loss, calling it "an investment for the better life of farmers".

"Those who don't like it see it as a loss," she said.

The rice pledging scheme was a key campaign pledge of her Puea Thai party, which gets the bulk of its support from the country's rural masses.

Ms Yingluck is the sister of controversial of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives abroad to evade a corruption-related jail sentence. Throughout her term in office, she was accused of being his proxy and faced opposition from the royalist elite and urban middle class, a resistance which grew into a seven-month long street protest that culminated in the 2014 coup.

The impeachment vote, which is due to take place later this month, requires a yes vote from three-fifths of the 220-member national assembly to go through.

Since seizing power, the military has outlawed political gatherings and kept a tight lid on political discussion. There are fears that a successful impeachment would galvanise opposition from Ms Yingluck's dormant "red shirt" supporters, upsetting the fragile peace imposed by martial law.

tanhy@sph.com.sg