Yingluck urges supporters to stay away ahead of verdict

Former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra speaking to the media after leaving the Supreme Court in Bangkok last month. The kingdom's first female prime minister could be jailed for up to 10 years if found guilty of criminal negligence for failin
Former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra speaking to the media after leaving the Supreme Court in Bangkok last month. The kingdom's first female prime minister could be jailed for up to 10 years if found guilty of criminal negligence for failing to rein in a rice subsidy scheme, under which the state bought rice from farmers at inflated prices.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Tensions high with thousands expected at court today, amid massive police deployment

Amid heightened tensions, former Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra has urged her supporters to stay away from court today as the verdict on her criminal negligence trial - which could land her in jail - is read.

"Even though we know that every one of you will come without any bad intention, it may be perceived in other ways," she wrote in a Facebook post yesterday. "I don't want your participation to be used to cause violence or result in intervention by others."

Police officers will swarm the courthouse just outside Bangkok today in anticipation of the thousands of Yingluck supporters expected to turn up. Meanwhile, large mysterious signs urging "no disunity, no fracture" appeared in dozens of locations in Bangkok yesterday, according to a Reuters report.

Yingluck and former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom both face possible imprisonment in separate trials related to the ousted government's multibillion-dollar subsidy for rice farmers. Yingluck, who was ousted from her position as prime minister in 2014 shortly before the military staged a coup, is accused of criminal negligence for failing to rein in the policy, under which the state bought rice from farmers at inflated prices. If convicted, she could be jailed for up to 10 years.

Boonsong is accused of corruption over a 2013 deal to sell stockpiled rice to the Chinese government, a deal later declared bogus by Thailand's national anti-graft body. If convicted , he could be jailed for life.

Guilty verdicts would appease the section of the polarised country which took to the streets three years ago to topple the Puea Thai party-led government. But emotions could run high in the other camp, under tight security surveillance since the coup.

  • THE TWO CASES

  • YINGLUCK SHINAWATRA

    Ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was impeached by military-appointed legislators in 2015 and is serving a five-year ban from politics.

    State prosecutors allege she was negligent over the management of the rice-pledging scheme. If convicted by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders today, she could be jailed for up to 10 years. Even before that, the military government, which deems her responsible for some 35 billion baht (S$1.4 billion) in losses for this scheme, has frozen her assets.

  • BOONSONG TERIYAPIROM

    Boonsong Teriyapirom headed Thailand's Commerce Ministry from 2012 to 2013. The government, which was then running up huge stockpiles of rice under its rice-pledging scheme, announced government-to-government rice sales deals, including one with China.

    Thailand's national anti-graft body later concluded that the rice had instead been routed to certain Thai companies by Chinese firms not authorised to represent the Chinese government.

    In 2015 - one year after Puea Thai party-led government was ousted by a military coup - Boonsong, former deputy commerce minister Poom Sarapol and former foreign trade department director Manus Soiploy were impeached by a military-appointed assembly.

    Criminal charges have been brought against Boonsong and 27 other officials, individuals as well as companies for this alleged corruption.

    If convicted today, Boonsong could be sentenced to life in prison.

"If (Yingluck) is jailed, it would start a fire in Thai politics," Chiang Mai University historian Attachak Sattayanurak told The Straits Times.

Thailand's first female prime minister is already banned from politics until 2020, after being retroactively impeached by a military-appointed assembly in 2015.

But the 50-year-old former business executive is still arguably Puea Thai's most recognisable personality alongside her brother Thaksin Shinawatra. A former premier ousted by a coup in 2006, he lives in self-imposed exile to evade a graft-related jail sentence.

The rice-pledging scheme was a key plank in Puea Thai's 2011 election campaign. While it raised farmers' incomes, it also bloated government stockpiles, distorted prices and toppled the kingdom from its position as the world's top rice exporter.

While playing down the possibility of major unrest, the authorities have taken no chances. In the last few weeks, police and soldiers visited Puea Thai supporters to dissuade them from turning up outside the courthouse today.

"They came to my house and my office," said Dr Pongsak Pusitsakul, a surgeon and political activist in Ratchaburi province. "They say 'we are concerned about you going to Bangkok on Aug 25. Will you go?'"

Van drivers have also been warned against transporting Yingluck's supporters to Bangkok, said activists outside the capital.

But this has not deterred people like Dr Pongsak.

"If she is sent to prison, we will move from outside the courthouse to the jail," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2017, with the headline 'Yingluck urges supporters to stay away ahead of verdict'. Print Edition | Subscribe