The impeachment of Yingluck Shinawatra: Worth the trouble for a show-trial?

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 23, 2015 UPDATE 2: Former prime minister and now-impeached Yingluck Shinawatra did not hold a press conference after the military junta told her not to (or according to the junta 'just' told her to "consider carefully"). Instead she posted a statement on Facebook  and while she was "expecting" today's outcome, she denounced the vote as there was clear "prejudice against her." She also said "Democracy has died in Thailand today, along with the rule of law. That move to destroy me is still ongoing and I face it now."

UPDATE: Thailand’s junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has voted overwhelmingly to impeach ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra over her government's ill-fated rice subsidy scheme, a move which see her banned from politics for five years.

Of the 208 lawmakers who participated, 190 voted to impeach the former prime minister, well past the required 132 votes.

Former House speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont and former Senate speaker Nikhom Wairatpanich both survived impeachment votes Friday.

EARLIER: Thailand's Attorney General is to indict former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for negligence. She will face criminal charges in the Supreme Court. If found guilty she could face 10 years in jail.


When the so-called National Legislative Assembly (NLA) votes in secret today whether or not to impeach former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, former House speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont and former Senate speaker Nikhom Wairatpanich, the question will not so much be about their fates, but more about the implications of the verdicts that go beyond a possible ban from politics for five years.

First, there’s the obviously the odd precedent that Yingluck was already forced out of office in early May 2014 by the Constitutional Court, which found her guilty in the illegal transfer of the National Security Council secretary Thawil Pliensri in 2011. Ten other cabinet members were also sacked in the same ruling and while the vacant spots were quickly filled, it left another power vacuum (after parliament was dissolved and the snap-election successfully ruined) during an already very volatile situation after over half a year of anti-government protests, further paving the path for the military coup just two weeks later.

The primary reason Yingluck is in the dock again is her government’s rice-subsidy policy in which the government bought rice from the farmers for 50 per cent more than the usual market price, hoping to push prices internationally before selling it on for a profit.  While this populist measure was popular and is credited as one of the main factors behind Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party overwhelmingly winning the 2011 elections, it quickly turned sour as Vietnam and India emerged as the world's top rice exporters and Thailand struggled to offload the 18 million tonnes of rice that it had stored away. The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) accused Yingluck of failing to prevent damages that cost the country an estimated US$15 billion.

The seems little doubt how the hand-picked, military-stacked NLA will vote today. Three-fifths of the total votes are needed - 132 of 220 members - to impeach Yingluck. It is highly unlikely that the NLA will dance out of line, especially the 100+ military officers that are expected to tow the junta’s line, despite a strong denial of this by the junta leader and current Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha himself.

With the looming five year ban from politics dangling over Yingluck’s head and that of the other Pheu Thai politicians, this appears a thinly veiled scheme to banish everyone and everything that is associated with Yingluck’s brother Thaksin. The stillpinfluential former prime minister was toppled in a military coup in 2006 and has been living in self-imposed exile since 2008. His critics would say that it is his continuing role in Thai politics that is the cause of the current crisis.

But to a much bigger degree it is the fact that those supporting the military coup can’t let go of Thaksin either - and that’s the main motivation of the coup itself and all the so-called ”reform” plans to prevent Thaksin from ever ruling again, regardless of the near-certain disenfranchisement of a large portion of the Thai electorate that could cause even more discontent.

Yingluck herself said in her closing statements on Thursday that the five-year ban from politics would be "a violation of my basic rights" and the case, "solely a hidden agenda against me, it is politically driven."  And indeed, today’s impeachment vote in the NLA appears to be just a show-trial to bolster the military junta's claims to be fighting against corruption - any other outcome besides impeachment today would only spark outrage by extreme anti-Thaksinites (both the protesters from last year and those in power now).

And the damage is being already done. The NACC (overzealously urging the NLA to ”make history” today) has already announced that it will prosecute other members of the former government, while the Office of the Attorney-General may also enthusiastically throw in  a criminal charge against Yingluck this morning shortly before the NLA vote actually begins.

While the likelihood of fresh protests by the anti-coup and (mostly, but not exclusively) pro-Yingluck/Thaksin red shirts remains low for now (thanks to continuing martial law and most of the leadership being muted), today's likely outcome will only deepen Thailand’s ongoing political schism.

The curious case of Yingluck Shinawatra's Bangkok Post (non-)interview

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 27, 2014 On Monday, the 'Bangkok Post' ran what was touted as the "first interview" given by former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra since the military coup of May 22, 2014, which ousted her government after nearly six months of anti-government protests and thus a manufactured political deadlock.

In the story, written by the Post's military correspondent Wassana Nanuam, Yingluck said that she "knew from the first day" in office that her tenure would be cut short; if not by "the independent agencies or the judiciary, [then] it would be a coup." In another poignant quote attributed to Yingluck, she described her removal from office with this metaphor:

I did my best to fulfil my duty as a prime minister installed via an election and who preserved democracy,” she said. “It’s the same as if the people had handed me the car keys and said I must drive and lead the country. Then suddenly, someone points a gun at my head and tells me to get out of the car while I’m at the wheel driving the people forward.

"Yingluck saw the coup coming", by Wassana Nanuam, Bangkok Post, November 24, 2014 [article removed, read copy here]

This is a rather strong statement from the former prime minister, who's known for her rather soft and reconciliatory rhetoric and has shied away from giving interviews or to comment publicly since the coup. Furthermore (according to the article at least), Yingluck also didn't rule out that she may enter politics again, if she isn't disqualified before and if there'll be any democratic elections in the near future.

Then, the article was removed from the 'Bangkok Post' website on Tuesday.

That raised suspicions as to whether or not there was some sort of outside interference, given the sensitive subject and the rather bold words. After all, since the military coup the media is under strict scrutiny of the military junta, hardly allowing any criticism (let alone opposition voices) - so much so that Thai junta Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha told the media not to report on the ousted PM or her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was himself toppled in a military coup in 2006 and has been in self-imposed exile for years; while still wielding considerable influence in Thai politics from afar.

But the actual reason was apparently more banal:

[...] its author, Wassana Nanuam, later wrote on her Facebook that the piece was not based on an interview with Yingluck. Rather, the article was drawn from bits and pieces of private conversations with the former leader, Wassana wrote. 

"I just wanted to present lighthearted and colourful angles [of former PM Yingluck]. I didn't want to focus on politics," Wassana wrote. "Let me insist that this is not an interview. It's a recollection of lighthearted and colourful topics about the former Madam Prime Minister."

According to Wassana, the editors at Bangkok Post"misunderstood" the intention of her article when they edited the piece.

"They may have looked at the heavy angles and raised them into points that are different to what the author intended to present, but I recognise it as the error on my own part."

She concluded, "I'd like to take responsibility for any [errors] that were caused by the lack of clear communication from my article. I know that I will be criticised and scolded by many sides."

"Bangkok Post Reporter Retracts Interview With Yingluck", Khaosod English, November 25, 2014

Just to recap on what Wassana said: she essentially intended to write a fluff, "lighthearted" piece about former prime minister Yingluck's life after the coup - all based on comments by her that were off-the-record! Yingluck's former secretary Suranand Vejjajiva also confirmed in a TV appearance that, while the two women did meet,  Yingluck did not give an official interview. And yet somehow, these off-the-cuffs remarks have found their way into written word and were then suddenly published as an interview that was in no way "lighthearted".

But it is really hard to tell that "bits and pieces of private conversations" are off-the-record and aren't supposed to be published, no?!

To say that the Post and Wassana's (whose apparent closeness to many of the top brass has often been questioned) decision to run the story as it was is a major blunder would be a major understatement. This fundamental editorial misjudgment (even more glaring given Wassana's experience) has - intended or not - set things in motion already.

Prayuth is apparently fuming and is considering to put a travel ban on Yingluck (while another Bangkok Post story still is referring to the non-existent 'interview'), which would prevent her from fleeing Thailand as she is still facing an investigation for dereliction of duty in her government's controversial rice pledging scheme by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). This could result in her impeachment - despite the fact that she is already toppled from power but could also be additionally barred from running for office in the future. But the NACC is also thinking out loud about criminal charges against Yingluck, which could spell real trouble for the former prime minister.

Yingluck has publicly said she won't flee the country and that she will be "keeping a low profile", looking after the house and her son - all in all, avoiding the media spotlight. It didn't quite work out that way because, it seems, that somebody doesn't know the difference between on- and off-the-record...!

Thai constitutional court ousts Yingluck; Cabinet appoints new PM

Thailand's Constitutional Court has found caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra guilty in the illegal transfer of National Security Council secretary Thawil Pliensri and has ordered her to step down.

The judges ruled that the transfer is considered "interference" and a "conflict of interest" that is "lacking in ethics and morals".

Thawil Pliensri was transferred from his post of National Security Council secretary in 2011, shortly after the newly-elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra took office (we reported).

+++GO HERE to the Siam Voices LIVE-Blog for complete coverage+++

Will Abhisit's 'middle man'-approach end Thailand's political impasse?

Originally published at Siam Voices on April 30, 2014 The efforts of Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to mediate in the ongoing political crisis is being welcomed by some and regarded with skepticism by others. What is the opposition leader's rationale after all these months, asks Saksith Saiyasombut

The past few days saw a man with his right arm in a sling, but also wearing his new ambitions on his sleeve. Abhisit Vejjajiva, former prime minister of Thailand and the leader of the opposition Democrat Party, is seeking a compromise across all political battle lines as fears of ongoing political tensions escalating into more violence grow.

For six months now the anti-government protests led by Abhisit's former deputy prime minister and former Democrat Party heavyweight Suthep Thuagsuban have taken Thailand's political discourse to dangerous extremes. Within that turmoil the opposition Democrat Party wasn't quite so sure where to position itself in all this, especially considering that many Democrat executives and supporters waged their battle outside parliament on the streets instead.

This dilemma grew bigger when the ruling Pheu Thai Party and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament in December and called for new elections. Since its chances at the polls were low as always and delusions confidence of the protesters at an high, the Democrat Party was left with the choice either to compete in the elections or to boycott them - or in their own words, either "killing" or "crippling" the party respectively, knowing that "it will hurt either way," as Abhisit noted then. Ultimately, the party decided to "cripple" itself and not to take part in the elections.

Despite the February 2 elections being successfully ruined by an obstructionist Election Commission and by mob blockades, and later annulled by the Constitutional Court, the Democrats still weren't quite sure where to position themselves other than beating the same "reform-before-elections" drum of Suthep's protesters. But with the mounting legal challenges against interim PM Yingluck at the Constitutional Court and at the National Anti-Corruption Commission taking longer than its rivals would have liked in order to oust her caretaker government, the political crisis steered closer and closer to an impasse. Meanwhile, the number of anti-government protesters has dwindled, with the hardcore  retreating to Bangkok's Lumphini Park.

Abhisit himself, while recovering from a broken collarbone after a fall at home last month, has now decided to re-position himself as the mediator between the warring factions.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has volunteered to spearhead efforts to break the current political deadlock by personally approaching key political figures to sell them on the ideas of reform. (...)

Appearing in a three-minute video clip posted on YouTube Thursday, Mr Abhisit said the only way to solve the political problems and move the country towards progress and stability is reform.

"I believe that the only way forward for the country is through reform, undertaken constitutionally and democratically with elections an integral part of the process,” he said. He did not elaborate on his reform ideas, saying he wanted to meet key individuals and groups to convince them in person. (...)

Mr Abhisit expects to complete the series of meetings within seven days.

However, he did not place the blame on any particular group. "Now is not the time to play the blame game because everyone is accountable for the situation our country is facing, including the Democrat Party and myself," he said.

"Abhisit offers to head efforts to end deadlock", Bangkok Post, April 25, 2014

Since his highly publicized pledge to bring everyone back to the table, Abhisit had a series of meetings with the military, the permanent secretary for justice and also intends to meet interim Yingluck, to name a few. However, there are no signals from her ruling Pheu Thai Party and their red shirt supporters, while the anti-government protesters have straight up slammed the door on Abhisit's mediator efforts and any talks whatsoever.

Abhisit's approach looks much more level-headed on the surface compared to the shrill and uncompromising calls for an unconstitutional power-grab by Suthep or others. Some might even say that Abhisit is distancing himself from the protesters and finally stepping up to be part of the political solution rather than being part of the problem, even though that might alienate a large section of the Democrat Party's Bangkok-based voters.

However, it is still unknown what exactly his "minor reforms" would look like and Abhisit remains vague in interviews after his personal meetings behind closed doors. He also has yet to reveal what the Democrat Party itself will do in order to move things forward, as it has yet to acknowledge the need for inner-party reform. Also, in a meeting with the Election Commission on Tuesday, which is currently aiming for a new election date some time this summer, Abhisit has hinted that might still be too early.

In fact, in all his public statements during the past week Abhisit has been very non-committal whether or not his party will be taking part in the next election. That might be indicative of the Democrat Party (and others) waiting for the outcome of the legal charges against the Yingluck caretaker government (see above). In other words: Abhisit could be waiting for the political playing field to be re-defined or entirely cleared out of their political rivals.

For now, we will have to wait until Abhisit wraps up his mediation tour to see if the intentions he's wearing on his sleeve are real, or if he's actually hiding another card up his sleeves.

'Unlawful' transfer of NSC chief could spell the end for Yingluck

Originally published at Siam Voices on April 2, 2014

UPDATE: Thailand's Constitutional Court today decided to accept the petition against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra relating to the transfer of Thawil Pliensri from his position as National Security Council (NSC) secretary in 2011, the Nation reports.


The legal challenges against the caretaker government of interim-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are mounting as the campaign to  chase her and the ruling Pheu Thai Party out of office gathers steam.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is charging Yingluck with dereliction of duty related to alleged corruption in her government's rice-pledging scheme, and is also bringing charges against against 308 lawmakers for their role in proposed constitutional amendments, just to name two cases. But since early March, there's another case that could topple the current government from power.

The Supreme Administrative Court yesterday ruled that the removal of Thawil Pliensri as National Security Council (NSC) secretary in 2011 was unlawful. Mr Thawil was shifted from the position under the orders of the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yesterday's ruling stated that Mr Thawil (...) must be reinstated to his former role within 45 days. It comes a little more than six months before Mr Thawil's mandatory retirement in September.

Mr Thawil lodged his initial complaint with the Central Administrative Court in April 2012, accusing Ms Yingluck of unfair treatment after he was transferred from the NSC on Sept 30, 2011.

On May 31 last year, the Administrative Court ruled in favour of Mr Thawil, revoking the prime ministerial order and ordering Mr Thawil's reinstatement. Appealing against that decision, Ms Yingluck claimed that as head of the government she had the authority to transfer officials to ensure the national administration was in line with the government's policy manifesto.

However, the court ruled yesterday that while the prime minister could exercise her judgement in transferring personnel, there must be plausible reasons to justify her decisions. Transfers should be free from bias or political preferences, the court said.

"Thawil wins fight against NSC transfer", Bangkok Post, March 8, 2014

Thawil was promoted to head of the NSC in 2009 during the administration of Abhisit Vejjajiva and was transferred to the virtually meaningless position of prime ministerial adviser shortly after Yingluck's government took charge in August 2011. While such changes whenever a new government comes is nothing unusual, Thawil argues that his move was because of "patronage":

He was replaced by Pol Gen Vichien Pojposri, then the national police chief, who was replaced by Pol Gen Priewpan Damapong, a brother of Khunying Potjamarn Na Pombejra, Thaksin Shinawatra's ex-wife, and finally by Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanabut.

"Thawil case 'easier way to impeach'", Bangkok Post, March 27, 2014

He went on record to say that the patronage system is "reflected in this unlawful transfer. If the patronage system stays strong, how can civil officials be counted on to do their jobs correctly?" However, his critics would highlight his involvement with the previous Abhisit government and close ties to the military - he was one of the men behind the bloody crackdown on the red shirt protests in 2010, but denies he made any order to kill - as aligning to exactly said patronage system.

Thawil's repeated appearances on the rally stages of the anti-government protests in the past five months don't help to deter from that assesment either - so much so that Surapong Tovichakchaikul, one of the men tasked by the prime minister to oversee security, openly declares his mistrust of Thawil and his reinstatement.

While the government publicly states that Thawil will get his job back soon (albeit only for a couple of months until his retirement in September), the case surrounding him could become a bigger legal headache for the government:

Kamnoon Sidhisamarn, a senator, wrote on his Facebook page [here] that the transfer of Mr Thawil would be "the knock-out punch" of the caretaker government before or after Songkran.

Thirachai Phuvanatnarabubala, the finance minister in Ms Yingluck's first cabinet, also quoted on his Facebook [here] another appointed senator, Paibul Nititawan, as saying Ms Yingluck, along with her cabinet, could be impeached much faster over the Thawil case than by the rice-pledging scheme.

"Thawil case 'easier way to impeach'", Bangkok Post, March 27, 2014

Both of them base their argument on a series of Sections in the Constitution. In a nutshell, Prime Minister Yingluck has allegedly violated the second paragraph of Section 266, since her decision to remove Thawil was politically motivated, since the reshuffle ultimately landed Priewphan Damapong as National Police Chief, who is a brother of Thaksin's ex-wife and Yingluck's former sister-in-law Potjaman Na Pombejra:

Section 266: A [MP] and a senator shall not (...) interfere with or intervene in the following matters for personal benefits or for the benefits of others or of a political party, whether directly or indirectly: (...) (2) the recruitment, appointment, reshuffle, transfer, promotion and elevation of a salary scale of a Government official holding a permanent position or receiving a permanent salary and not being a political official, or an official or employee of a Government agency (...)"

Thus she would have breached Section 268 ("The Prime Minister (...) shall not perform any act provided in section 266 (...)"), to which Section 182 would take effect ("The ministership (...) terminates upon: (...) (7) having done an act prohibited by section 267, section 268 or section 269 (...)“) and since it would be Prime Minister Yingluck's position on the line, a ruling against her could also wipe out the entire cabinet according to Section 180 ("Ministers vacate office en masse upon: (1) the termination of ministership of the Prime Minister under section 182 (...)”).

It is speculated that the Constitutional Court will decide today (Wednesday) whether or not to accept such a petition against Yingluck and her government. The court has an ongoing track record of ruling against this caretaker government (see here, here, here and here) and could potentially deal the knockout blow the anti-government movement - campaigning for five months now - is looking for, paving way for a political vacuum that will allow it to install an unelected government.