Thailand braces itself for rice scandal ruling: The Nation

Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (right) speaks to the media after she arrives for her trial on criminal charges stemming from her government's rice price subsidy.
Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (right) speaks to the media after she arrives for her trial on criminal charges stemming from her government's rice price subsidy. PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on 26 June, the paper urges calm and restraint as the politically contentious ruling for ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is released soon.

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK)- Last year saw an uneasy political calm, a repeat of 2015 when tension was kept largely on computer screens. But in upcoming months, the country's suspenseful peace could be more fragile, as one of the hottest issues is expected to reach its climax.

The conclusion of the rice-pledging scheme trial that directly concerns the future of ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has the potential to create a major uproar that could spill over from keyboards onto the streets. It will definitely be the most sensitive period politically since the 2014 coup.

On her birthday a few days ago, the embattled Yingluck cried. She described her life at 50 as tough and unpredictable.

The tears and choked voice put an otherwise low-key birthday ceremony on front and home pages, and reminded everyone that Thailand, having scraped through the potentially explosive Dhammakaya development, has an arguably bigger bomb to defuse.

Next year's general election may trigger major turbulence, but the poll can wait.

The conclusion of the rice scheme trial is a more immediate concern. If the ruling goes against Yingluck, it has a real capacity to badly damage the jugular veins of Pheu Thai, the country's biggest political party, and the still-powerful Shinawatra clan. How their mass of followers will react to a possible jail term for the ex-PM, staggering financial penalties and long-term election bans remains to be seen. To make the scenario more worrying is the near certainty that whatever the outcome of the court case, there will be widespread anger, disappointment and a feeling of injustice in the divided Thailand.

A lot of government officials and critics of the controversial rice scheme have testified, so have defence witnesses, many of whom served in the Yingluck Cabinet. The prosecution has presented more than 60,000 pages of documents and the testimony by Yingluck's last witnesses are scheduled for June 29, July 7 and July 21.

If things go as planned, the historic trial will wrap up in August and a ruling can be expected in September or before the end of this year.

Some say the rice trial would have been better off if it had taken place when Thailand has a full democracy. Others argue that such a trial would not have been possible under a democracy in the first place. Both sides have their reasons, but, whether we like it or not, the trial is happening now and drawing to a close. Everyone should be focused on how to maintain peace after the verdict, not on debating whether a trial should have been initiated.

Thailand will have no choice but to bite the bullet. As difficult as it seems, as political prejudices have dictated feelings about the trial and will dominate responses to the ruling, Thais should look at evidence and counter-evidence when forming judgements on the final outcome of the trial. Court statements when the verdict is issued must be studied with open minds. It's the only way to get out of a vicious circle.

The trial and ruling concern key elements of democracy, like the checks and balances, political integrity and maturity of society overall. In fact, the ongoing political crisis is about serious disagreements over such issues.

Cool heads are needed, as the verdict, whatever it is, will give the country another acid test. Having had to rely on force and violence to effect political changes, Thailand will get another chance to try to prove that it can solve its serious problems through peaceful means.

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media entities.