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Verdict enables junta to tighten its hold on power

Sep 27. 2017
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By ATTAYUTH BOOTSRIPOOM
THE NATION

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THE COURT verdict yesterday in former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s case highlighted the future of the country’s politics, with the junta now able to tighten its grip on the country after years of setbacks.

However, Yingluck and her brother Thaksin Shinawatra may not be at a complete loss and could still turn a crisis into opportunity. Given her new status as a convict, Yingluck could be allowed to make a plea for support from the international community, like her brother has done.

Yingluck was sentenced to five years in prison yesterday for malfeasance of duty for failing to prevent corruption in her government’s rice-pledging scheme, and particularly regarding rice distribution under government-to-government contracts, which were later found to be fake.

The verdict has put her in the same position as her brother, who fled the country to avoid a charge in a case involving a Ratchadaphisek land deal. He has been living in exile for years.

However, as a convict, Yingluck could play a new political game, like her brother has from overseas. A discourse about a “double standard” could be powerful in helping garner sympathy for Yingluck. The only question is how intense that sympathy could become, especially given that Pheu Thai Party is still a factor.

Somsak Prisna-anantakul, a key figure in Chart Thai Pattana Party, said the verdict shook politicians’ credibility and confidence. 

Polls in the Northeast found that Pheu Thai Party could still win a majority vote, suggesting that the verdict might not tarnish politicians’ images and credibility in the long run, or in the months to come when elections are due to take place. The verdict, more significantly, is a lesson to any top leader on how to oversee government officials to fend off future corruption charges.

Jade Donavanik, adviser to the Constitution Drafting Commission, said without Yingluck, some Pheu Thai figures might decide to leave the party. Along with new rules written under the charter and organic laws, it was unlikely that Pheu Thai would have another major victory, Jade said.

As a result, the junta’s standing would rise and become a critical factor in the coming election, Jade said.

The junta is seen by some political observers as now having the advantage. With Yingluck’s guilt declared, military leaders can claim legitimacy and prolong their stay in office. And without her presence in the country, it is easy for the junta to attack her without fearing resistance from her supporters.

If nothing changes, the junta can take a strong stand in the election under its “roadmap to democracy” and control the situation better than before, while being able to determine the fate at the polls.

Pheu Thai Party, on the other hand, is in a relatively difficult situation, with prospective leaders fearing the same fate as their former leader.

Yingluck is, therefore, at a critical juncture. She has to decide whether to relinquish her power or fight to the end in the hope of a change that will allow her to take the lead again.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a politics science professor at Chulalongkorn University, was quoted by AFP as saying that the guilty verdict might not eliminate the Shinawatras’ influence altogether, although it spelled “the end of Yingluck’s political career”. 

It also sent a warning to would-be successors who might try and challenge the dominance of the military and its allies in Bangkok’s traditional aristocracy, he said. 

“This is the first time that a Thai prime minister has been sentenced to jail for a policy from an election campaign,” said Thitinan. He called it “a tough and tricky standard for future Thai prime ministers”. 

Paul Chambers, an expert on Thai politics, told AFP the military had rid itself of a potential thorn in its side after Yingluck fled because she could have become a martyr if jailed, or a powerful politician again if not.

A high-ranking source in Pheu Thai said he believed members of the Shinawatra family would not dare to assume leadership of the party. “They learned a lesson in the past decade. I think they may not be in a position to resist or retain power. They will prefer to keep low profile,” the source, who asked not to be named, told The Nation.

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