The retroactive impeachment of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra by Thailand's appointed parliament on Friday for dereliction of duty over her ousted government's controversial rice-pledging scheme has sapped crucial reconciliation efforts. It has also set the country up for longer-term turmoil as forces supportive of and opposed to the legacy of Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a deposed former prime minister himself, vie for dominance in Thailand's future political order.
This is all taking place in the waning twilight of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's unbroken 68-year reign. Amid this grand transition, Thailand is under a virtual military lockdown since its second coup in eight years on May 22 2014. Yingluck's impeachment and consequent five-year ban from politics is merely a sideshow in the decade-long saga of who gets to rule Thailand and by what means.
To be sure, the coup-appointed National Legislative Assembly's decision against Yingluck represents a power play, not a demonstration of the rule of law. She had already been disqualified from office weeks before the putsch for improperly overseeing a senior bureaucrat's transfer. As the coup abolished the 2007 constitution, the case against her had to rely on enabling laws. Impeaching Yingluck after her ouster from office under a coup-installed regime with no constitution in place required elastic legal technicalities. Ultimately, the reason was her failure to stop irregularities in the loss-making rice scheme. As if to put all nails in Yingluck's coffin, the NLA let off the hook two other Pheu Thai party executives, Somsak Kiatsuranon and Nikom Wairatpanich, who were also targeted in impeachment proceedings for their attempt last year to amend the pre-coup constitution and alter the composition of the Senate.
But in view of signals from Thailand's junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, particularly from Prime Minister and former General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the NLA's overwhelming vote of 190 to 18, with a handful of abstentions and invalid ballots, was unsurprising. Targeting Yingluck reinforces the coup rationales of conflict resolution and corruption eradication. More importantly, the danger for the coup leaders was that Yingluck, if not banned from politics, may well lead Thaksin's party machine to victory again at the next poll.
The rice-pledging scheme has been portrayed as a disastrous miscalculation in trying to manipulate global rice prices, and its implementation indeed reeked of corruption. But if this measure of dismal policy with attendant corruption were applied to previous and future Thai prime ministers, most of them would fail the test.
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