Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been banned from office for five years and faces criminal charges that could see her jailed for 10 years.
She has been impeached by a parliament appointed by the army that overthrew Shinawatra’s government in a coup last May.
The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) accused her of corruption in a controversial subsidy scheme that paid farmers well over the market rate for rice and cost the country billions of euros.
In a separate move, the Attorney General’s office announced moves to bring criminal charges for negligence against Shinawatra before the Supreme Court.
In a radio broadcast, Army Chief General Udomdej Sitabutr called on the population to respect the NLA vote, and a spokesman for the junta said it had seen no sign of unrest.
Yingluck vowed to fight the charges.
“Thai democracy has died along with the rule of law,” she said in a statement posted on her Facebook page.
“I will fight until the end to prove my innocence, no matter what the outcome will be. And most importantly, I want to stand alongside the Thai people. Together we must bring Thailand prosperity, bring back democracy and truly build justice in Thai society.”
This is the latest twist in a saga that has pitted the royalist-military establishment against the Shinawatra family and its largely rural following – many of whom benefited from the rice scheme.
Yingluck’s brother Thaksin – whose government was elected by a landslide, like his sister’s – was also ousted from power, in 2006. He later fled Thailand to avoid a jail term for corruption. He has remained in exile but retains a strong influence over Thai politics.
Those in favour of the move to impeach Yingluck argue it was not politically motivated but relates purely to the management of the subsidy scheme.
“The rice subsidy scheme was unforgivable because there was corruption and it caused the country a huge loss. The morals of Thai society have deteriorated because the rules and regulations have become tarnished,” said 59-year-old Bangkok resident Sompong Potha, backing the move against the former PM.
The scheme resulted in huge stockpiles of rice and damaged Thailand’s exports. Yet the policy was popular among the Shinawatra’s many supporters who have consistently elected into office parties linked to the family.
Yet no-one was prosecuted over the scheme until now, and critics have noted that Yingluck is being impeached retroactively, after she has left office. Her supporters see the courts and the NLA as biased and in league with an establishment determined to banish the Shinawatra family from politics altogether.
The parliamentary members, nearly half of whom are serving or former military officers, were hand-picked by coup leader and current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. He has promised a return to democracy after political and social reforms are enacted – but his government says no elections will be held until February next year at the earliest.
Raewat Koprasert, a 45-year-old motorcycle taxi driver, opposes Shinawatra’s impeachment: “I don’t think it is right. It is taking political rights away from someone,” he said.
Despite Shinawatra’s popularity and previous demonstrations by her family’s famous “Red Shirt” supporters, the streets of Bangkok remained protest-free on Friday. Public gatherings are banned under martial law.