Large turnout of supporters for Yingluck as rice trial nears end

Ousted Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra greeting supporters as she arrives at a Bangkok court yesterday for an ongoing trial that looks into a controversial rice subsidy scheme during her administration.
Ousted Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra greeting supporters as she arrives at a Bangkok court yesterday for an ongoing trial that looks into a controversial rice subsidy scheme during her administration. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • Thailand's former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, arrived at a Bangkok court to shouts of encouragement from her supporters yesterday, two weeks before the final stages of a case about her involvement in a ruinously expensive state rice subsidy scheme.

Yingluck, whose government was ousted in a 2014 military coup, faces up to 10 years in prison if she is found guilty of negligence over her role in the scheme, which proved popular with rural voters but was a disaster for state coffers.

She and the opposition say the trial is politically motivated and is aimed at undermining the populist movement that has won every election since 2001. The movement is opposed by Thailand's powerful military and conservative elite.

Around 500 supporters showed up outside the court yesterday, police said, the largest turnout in many months.

One wrote "Love the prime minister" on his hand, while others shouted, "fight, fight".

Yingluck has denied the charges against her.

The military has said that it will deploy troops to maintain security on July 21, when a final hearing in the case is expected.

Yingluck's critics see the rice case as a litmus test of the junta's sincerity in tackling corruption in politics, one of its promises after it seized power in 2014.

Yingluck, whose government was ousted in a 2014 military coup, faces up to 10 years in prison if she is found guilty of negligence over her role in the rice subsidy scheme, which proved popular with rural voters but was a disaster for state coffers.

Closing statements in the case will be delivered within 30 days of the final hearing, court officials said.

Yingluck told crowds outside the court: "I am confident of the witnesses we have presented. The encouragement I have been given is still good... this is a strong characteristic of the Thai people."

Successive Thai governments have supported farmers since the 1980s, but none of the schemes has proved as popular with rural voters as the rice programmes pioneered by Yingluck's brother, ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Yingluck's government went a step further, promising to buy rice from farmers at some 50 per cent above the market price.

The scheme helped her to sail to victory in a 2011 general election, making her the country's first female prime minister.

However, public losses from the scheme fuelled street protests that eventually saw her removed from power just weeks before the 2014 coup.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2017, with the headline 'Large turnout of supporters for Yingluck as rice trial nears end'. Print Edition | Subscribe