Thai PM denies legal charges that may topple government
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Thailand’s caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra defended herself on Tuesday against abuse of power allegations in a crucial court case that is one of several legal challenges that could remove her from office.
She is accused of abusing her authority by transferring her National Security Council chief to another position in 2011. Critics say the transfer was to benefit her ruling party and violated the constitution.
Yingluck’s testimony at the Constitutional Court marked the latest twist in Thailand’s ongoing political crisis. Her supporters accuse the courts of trying to topple Yingluck through unfair use of the legal system after six months of anti-government protests failed to unseat her.
“I would like to deny all allegations I am accused of,” Yingluck told the court. “I violated no laws and I didn’t receive any benefit from the appointment.”
The case was lodged by anti-government senators, who won an initial victory in February when another court ruled that the official, Thawil Pliensri, had to be restored to his job.
“The Administrative Court, which is a lower court, already found her guilty of abuse of power in that transfer, saying it was unlawful and unfair,” says Ismail Wolff, France 24’s Bangkok correspondent. “Now the Constitutional Court is deliberating whether that offence is worthy enough to have her removed from office.”
If Yingluck is found guilty, she would have to step down as prime minister.
Cabinet under threat too
The court could also extend its verdict to cabinet members who endorsed the decision to remove Thawil, potentially dislodging a layer of ruling party decision-makers with ties to her brother, the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives overseas to avoid jail for corruption convictions.
Yingluck has also been charged by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) with neglect of duty in connection with a costly rice-subsidy scheme that critics say fomented rampant corruption.
If indicted on those charges, Yingluck would be suspended from office and face an impeachment vote in the upper house of parliament that could lead to a five-year ban from politics.
Thailand has been gripped by political conflict since 2006, when Thaksin was ousted in a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. His supporters and opponents have each taken to the streets in a struggle that is currently focused on removing Yingluck, who took office in 2011. Her opponents say she is a proxy for her brother.
The courts and independent state agencies are widely seen as biased against Thaksin’s political machine, and there are fears that Yingluck’s “Red Shirt” supporters could return to the streets if they feel she is facing a “judicial coup”. More than 20 people have been killed in protest-related violence since November.
Yingluck called early elections in February as a way of affirming her mandate. The February polls were subsequently annulled by the Constitutional Court and new polls have been scheduled for July.
FRANCE 24's Wolff says, “If you look at her supporters, they are saying this is just another attempt by the court to intervene in the parliamentary democracy of the country.” He said in 2008, then-prime minister Samak Sundaravej was forced to step down after being found guilty of conflict of interest for having hosted several episodes of a commercial TV cooking show.
“It’s up to the judges,” Jarupong Ruangsuwan, leader of the ruling Puea Thai party, told AFP before the Yingluck hearing. “All I can say is that if the court convicts the prime minister and her entire cabinet, there will be turmoil.”
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)