Ousted Thai PM Indicted in Rice Subsidy Scheme
Thailand’s anti-graft commission indicted ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Thursday on charges of dereliction of duty in overseeing a widely criticized rice subsidy program, a day after a court forced her from office.
Yingluck was accused of allowing the rice program, a flagship policy of her administration, to proceed despite advice that it was potentially wasteful and prone to corruption.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission’s action had little immediate consequence following Yingluck’s ouster from power a day earlier. But It is likely to further poison a badly polarized political atmosphere. Many of Yingluck’s supporters already believe that the country’s conservative establishment is bending the rules to take back power.
A consistent string of decisions by the courts and independent agencies such as the anti-graft commission against Yingluck and her political machine has eroded many people’s faith in the rule of law, raising the possibility of heightened civil unrest. Grenades were fired Thursday night by unknown people at three targets associated with the royalist establishment.
Rallies planned by Yingluck’s opponents for Friday and her supporters for Saturday will be a test of the political volatility.
The government lost billions of dollars on the rice subsidy plan, which also cost Thailand its position as the world’s leading rice exporter as the artificially high prices forced the government to stockpile the commodity.
National Anti-Corruption Commission chief Panthep Klanarongran said the commissioners voted unanimously that there were enough grounds to indict Yingluck.
They said Yingluck, as head of government and in her capacity as chairwoman of the National Rice Policy Committee, failed to cancel the rice subsidy scheme despite learning it could pose a great risk to the country’s fiscal status.
“The NACC had submitted letters to warn the defendant twice that the project would create problems and incur great losses, as well as allow corruption to take place throughout every step of the scheme,” Commissioner Vicha Mahakun told a news conference. “Yet the defendant did not consider suspending the project as soon as she learned about the country’s great losses from running the project.”
The commission, however, said it was unclear whether Yingluck was involved in corruption or had allowed it to take place.
Criticism of the commission has focused on whether it is appropriate for a small unelected body, instead of voters, to sit in judgment of government policies.
The ruling means Yingluck will face an impeachment vote by the Senate. If found guilty by a three-fifths vote, she would be barred from politics for five years.
The anti-graft commission, one of several independent state agencies with powers similar to those of a court, is also looking into possibly filing criminal charges against Yingluck.
Its decision Thursday came a day after the Constitutional Court ousted Yingluck and nine Cabinet members for abuse of power over the transfer of the National Security Council chief in 2011 to another position. It ruled that the transfer was carried out to benefit her politically powerful family and, therefore, violated the constitution – an accusation she denied.
The ruling accomplished what anti-government demonstrators have sought to do for the past six months and further widened the country’s sharp political divide.
The leader of the protesters, Suthep Thaugsuban, told his followers that they would stage a “final offensive” on Friday and would achieve their goal of fully ousting the government.
Yingluck’s supporters, known as the Red Shirts, have called for a huge rally Saturday to show support for the government, which won a landslide victory in 2011 elections.
The rice subsidy program helped the government win the votes of millions of farmers. It accumulated losses of at least $4.4 billion and has been dogged by corruption allegations. Payments to farmers were delayed for many months.