Thailand’s ex-PM Yingluck sentenced in absentia to 5 years

Verdict raises questions about military’s vow to restore democracy

Ex-Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra speaks to Bangkok media in July 2017
(Image credit: Lillian Suwanrumpha, AFP/Getty Images)

Thailand’s former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was sentenced in absentia today to five years in prison for criminal negligence in a trial brought by the junta that overthrew her.

Today’s verdict is likely to solidify military rule and raise uncertainty about the junta’s pledge to restore democracy. It could also destablise Thai politics as Yingluck’s Peua Thai party is likely to now be headed by deputy leader Sudarat Keyuraphan. Insiders say he has the backing of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra but not necessarily the party’s rank and file, Asia Times reports.

The 50-year-old Yingluck fled Thailand in late August and is reportedly in Dubai with her billionaire brother, Thaksin, who was overthrown as PM in a 2006 coup. Analysts say Yingluck probably cut a deal to leave Thailand with the military leaders bent on scrubbing her clan from politics, according to Channel News Asia.

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Yingluck’s trial involved accusations that while prime minister she failed to stop corruption in a rice subsidy programme that helped finance her family’s rural base in the northeast. Farmers were supportive but critics called the plan an expensive, populist handout. Authorities say the programme caused the country $8bn (£5.97bn) in financial losses, Al Jazeera reports.

While the Shinawatra family has dominated politics, their leadership has repeatedly been knocked down by coups and court rulings backed by elites, triggering repeated protests, Channel News Asia says. Reaction to the five-year sentence was subdued, however, with local news reports saying less than 100 supporters gathered in front of the court for the verdict, many fewer than the thousands who converged on 25 August when Yingluck was originally to be sentenced.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said yesterday he would reveal Yingluck’s whereabouts once the verdict was announced, The Bangkok Post reported. Thai authorities said last week they have questioned three police officers who admitted to helping her flee.

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