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Bad luck, Yingluck

Bad luck, Yingluck

The junta rule in Thailand appears to be gaining more strength with the much-publicised criminal conviction of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is now at large. Holding Yingluck guilty of negligence in handling her coup-ousted government's controversial rice price support policy, a hatband scheme that resulted in heavy loss to the state exchequer, the Bangkok's Supreme Court for Political Office Holders sentenced the ex-leader in absentia to five years in prison, half the maximum sentence allowed under the present Thai law. The meagre number of Yingluck supporters gathered outside the court when punishment was being pronounced against her, indicated that the whole country has been gripped by the fear of the present Junta dictatorship. Since the ex-premier has not made any public statement after fleeing from Thailand, her political supporters guess that she is either in London or Dubai. However, Dubai authorities have denied her presence there, English officials have not yet responded to her presence either. Taking advantage of Yingluck's absence, PM Prayuth Chan-ocha, who designed the coup, claimed for gained importance to the junta's narrative indicated by Yingluck's flight from justice as a proof that she is guilty and her supporters are corrupt and driven more by personal than national motivations. It may be noted that on August 26, the court pronounced harsh imprisonment to Yingluck's former commerce minister and his deputy, while hearing their bail petitions. But, the official version of the 'great escape' by Yingluck is coming apart. More importantly, the public is rapidly losing confidence in the junta government's ability to reconstruct what occurred – or device a credible account. It has been almost six weeks since Yingluck supposedly left the country. Surprisingly, till two days before, she was not present to appear for the ruling in her malfeasance case at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions. Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who is in charge of security, said, the Task Force checkpoint is just this side of the Cambodia border. It is disturbing that the very top men in the government have been unable to come up with a believable story about the disappearance of the former prime minister. The public, however, is rather openly suspicious of how the former PM slipped every shred of surveillance. The junta regime is rapidly losing public trust on this issue. Gen Prawit has proven unable to convince the public, which was sceptical, to begin with, and now has become even more cynical. No government can afford to lose the citizen's trust on such a matter of public concern. Yingluck undoubtedly feared the dictatorship's notion of 'justice' as the trial was never fair. Installed as prime minister at the head of the self-proclaimed National Council for Peace and Order, Prayuth Chan-o-cha is a comic figure highly sensitive to criticism bearing strong delusions of grandeur. But he brooks no opposition. Interestingly, he declared himself to have a 'democratic heart' while arresting students for making the three-finger salute popularised in the Hunger Games movie. Last year the dictator, who after ousting the elected government composed a song on happiness for his countrymen, brought criminal charges against those who used Facebook to mock his manifold of foibles. The generalissimo's determination to stay in power after failing to act on his promise to restore democracy is reflected in the prosecution of Yingluck in a criminal case involving a pork barrel rice subsidy scheme she implemented after being elected prime minister in 2011.

It was bad policymaking, not illicit corruption, and the junta's puppet legislature previously used 'retrospective impeachment' to convict her of negligence and ban her from politics through 2019. However, the dictator obviously remains afraid of the populist movement created by Yingluck's brother, Thaksin, who was elected prime minister in 2001, only to be ousted by the military in 2006. Thaksin horrified the urban elite by creating an electoral majority built on strong support among the rural poor. On the other hand, the opposition leaders invited a coup but were shocked when the military refused to turn the country over to them after ousting Yingluck. Last year the junta finally held a rigged referendum on a Constitution drafted to ensure continued military dominance over Thai politics. But no elections have yet been held under that flawed document. Installed to restore stability after years of debilitating street protests, and with a still incomplete delicate royal transition, the junta still has various security-related reasons it could agitate or cite to push back polls. Back to Yingluck: She might have fled, but the masks imposed by others follow her. Her supporters still expect her to play a role in exile by fighting the junta which staged the 2014 coup and is in power till today. Those who see Yingluck with a different mask also expect her and the Shinawatra clan to continue being a threat to the Junta and the national security of Thailand, or at least Juntaland-Thailand.

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