Former Thailand PM Yingluck defends herself in Parliament as impeachment hearing closes

FORMER Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra turned up in Thailand's Parliament on Thursday to defend herself as impeachment proceedings against her drew to a close.

The impeachment vote, which needs approval from three-fifths of the 220-member military-appointed assembly to go through, is due to take place on Friday.

Ms Yingluck, 47, is accused of negligence over her administration's handling of its state rice pledging scheme, under which the state bought rice from farmers at some 50 per cent above market price. The scheme bloated state rice stockpiles and is estimated to have cost more than 500 billion baht (S$20.5 billion). Critics allege it was riddled with graft.

She faces a five-year ban from politics if found guilty.

"As prime minister, I have never ignored suggestions nor allowed corruption," she told the 220-member interim assembly. Rather, the scheme was launched "for farmers to have a better life and opportunities like other people".

Security was heavy outside Parliament on Thursday morning as Ms Yingluck turned up with her former ministers to give her closing statement.

Ms Yingluck took office after the Puea Thai party's landslide victory in 2011. She was thrown out of office on May 7 by the Constitutional Court over the transfer of a senior official. Two weeks later, Puea Thai's remnant caretaker Cabinet were ousted by a military coup.

She has questioned the legality of the impeachment, given that she no longer holds any position.

Nevertheless, she turned up at the start of the hearing on Jan 9 to deny all charges. During the second hearing one week, she sent her former ministers to answer questions on her behalf. The assembly refused to hear their answers, prompting them to release a video on YouTube.

Coup maker and current prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who rules with the help of an appointed Cabinet and the military-stacked national legislature, has denied he has ordered a guilty verdict.

"I have never sent any signal. Never. There has never been an order," he told reporters on Monday.

Thailand remains politically riven despite a semblance of calm imposed by military control. Protests have been outlawed and political leaders and activists kept under strict surveillance.

Ms Yingluck is the sister of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains popular among Thailand's rural masses despite being ousted by a coup in 2006 and lives abroad to evade a jail term for corruption.

The royalists, elite and urban middle class, who rallied on Bangkok's streets against her government early last year, accuse her of being his proxy.

tanhy@sph.com.sg