Thai assembly's military members hold key to Yingluck case

Thai assembly's military members hold key to Yingluck case
Ousted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gestures as she arrives at Parliament before the National Legislative Assembly meeting in Bangkok January 9, 2015. Thailand's legislature begins a hearing against Yingluck on Friday over the rice subsidy scheme that critics denounced as a wasteful handout to her supporters. If found guilty, she could be banned from politics for five years.

The political future of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be in the hands of military members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) when a vote is called tomorrow on whether she should be impeached over failure to stop corruption and losses in the rice-pledging scheme.

The number of votes required for the impeachment of Yingluck is 132, or three-fifths.

Under normal political circumstances, impeachment attempts of key politicians have never been successful - for instance, the cases of ex-PM Somchai Wongsawat, ex-foreign minister Noppadon Pattama and former National Anti-Corruption Commis-sion member Pakdee Pothisiri.

But critics believe under the "abnormal" political situation in which the country is being run by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), there is a high probability that Yingluck will be impeached and banned from politics for five years.

This is because more than half of the NLA members are military officers. The composition of the NLA is 109 military officers, 9 police officers, 15 academics, 43 former senators and independent bodies, 32 state officials and 12 businessmen.

An insight into the military NLA group shows that most members - Deputy PM General Prawit Wongsuwan, Lt-General Preecha Chan-o-cha, Admiral Sithawat Wongsuwan, General Kittipong Keskovit and General Noppadon Intapunya - are closely connected to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

If Prayut dropped any hints publicly about impeaching Yingluck, it would have been clear that Yingluck's political journey was about to be halted. But he has not sent any indication - not publicly at least - that he wants her impeached.

In his previous interviews, Prayut has often said "let the justice system run its course".

Prawit had also insisted there would not be any lobbying or recommendations from top brass about the impeachment of key politicians from the previous government. The top brass does not want impeachment to affect the reconciliation and democracy road map, observers point out.

If the NLA vote freely, it would be tough to get 132 votes to impeach Yingluck. But what happened last week may have changed the scenario. Yingluck failed to attend the assembly to answer its queries in regard to the rice-pledging scheme and some of her lawyers have given media interviews in a manner that is disrespectful to the assembly.

Some military NLA members had reportedly been swayed towards impeachment. Besides, Yingluck on Tuesday was dealt a significant setback when the NACC decided to press charges against former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom along with 18 associates and two private firms, for creating illegal government-to-government (G2G) rice sale deals.

The second serious blow Yingluck received was when a joint working group of anti-graft officials and public prosecutors agreed to indict her on a long-standing criminal case in regard to the rice-pledging scheme.

Some military officials who still have many years of service remaining before retirement may not be willing to do anything that would hamper their career paths.

There is no guarantee that the "old power" will not return, and if that is the case, the NLA members who vote to impeach Yingluck may have to live with the threat of revenge.

NLA members from business group may not want to put their businesses at risk because the network of the old power penetrates deep and wide into the country's economic sector.

Although no political observers have come out to predict Yingluck's fate, the impeachment sentiment is growing louder as the crucial vote nears. Those with power and political rivals of the Pheu Thai camp who are close to NLA have cited that if Yingluck escapes impeachment, the May 22 coup led by Prayut would be "a total waste" and a contradiction of the government's anti-corruption policy.

"The NLA, NCPO and the government must move in the same direction. If they intend to resolve the country's problems once and for all, [they must] not fear consequences, otherwise the May 22 coup would end up being a waste,'' an NLA source said.

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