Thailand tense on eve of Shinawatra verdict

The former prime minister faces ten years in prison, but are the charges political?

Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's former PM
Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's former PM
(Image credit: 2012 Getty Images)

Thailand and its former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, are awaiting a Supreme Court verdict that could send her to prison for ten years and have a profound effect on the future of Thai politics.

Shinawatra is accused of negligence in implementing a rice subsidy programme that by some estimates cost the Thai government as much as $17bn (£13bn). The verdict is due tomorrow.

"An essential part of Ms Yingluck's winning manifesto was a generous promise to rice farmers," says the BBC. "That is at the heart of the legal case against her,"

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Under her programme, the government was to buy the entire rice crop, paying above the price guaranteed under the previous government. Farmers were happy but economists and experts questioned the scheme's viability. When the programme proved unsustainable, corruption allegations followed.

However, the case against Yingluck is seen by many in Thailand as political rather than judicial, says the Chicago Tribune.

She herself has described the case as a "political game", saying the military wish to crush the family dynasty, having ousted her brother Thaksin as Prime Minister in 2006. In 2014, Yingluck's government was also ousted in a military coup.

If she is found guilty, the military will have to deal with what comes next. "Any imprisonment of Yingluck would not be good for the image of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order," The Nation website reports. "Her imprisonment would make her a more sympathetic figure and could elevate her to the status of a 'democracy icon'," much like Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi.

A guilty verdict might also be used by Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party to draw support ahead of the 2018 general election.

On the other hand, if the court dismisses the case against Shinawatra, "pressure from the anti-Thaksin camp will mount on the NCPO while it will be highlighted by the Pheu Thai in the run-up to the next general election," The Nation says.

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