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Thailand In Turmoil
Court Moves to Impeach Thai PM Over Rice Scheme

The enemies of Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are marshaling forces against her. After a few days of calm, protestors have returned to the streets. And the national corruption investigative unit, backed by the constitutional court, is preparing to launch impeachment proceedings over the PM’s “negligence” and “abusing her position” in the government’s flagship rice subsidy program, which supports rural farmers.

On Monday, Shinawatra appeared briefly at the offices of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, where her legal team presented thousands of pages of official documents and testimony in cardboard boxes to support her defense. The NACC charged her with dereliction of duty and negligence over the rice buying program. If the NACC forwards the case to the Senate, Yingluck could be impeached. The NACC’s decision could take weeks.

The rice subsidy program has been a disaster by most accounts. It has cost the government millions of dollars, facilitated corruption, and left hundreds of thousands of farmers unpaid and angry. The Prime Minister’s enemies say that in addition to those failings it is a partisan vote-buying scheme designed to bolster support for the Prime Minister in Thailand’s rural areas.

Over the past few months, hordes of protestors appeared on the street and threatened to unseat Yingluck. She outlasted and outmaneuvered them by calling for an early election, which she would have easily won. But the opposition wouldn’t be cowed. The Constitutional Court nullified the election this month and the NACC has moved forward with the rice scheme charges that could lead to her impeachment. Protest leaders have brought people back into the streets of Bangkok.

Against this backdrop, Thais across the political spectrum are growing nervous about the ailing health of the beloved king. Whoever is in charge of the government when he finally passes will have heavy influence over the succession. That is why the current political tug of war is so hotly contested.

To make things even more precarious, the Prime Minister’s supporters are gearing up for a fight. Known as “red shirts,” they won’t let her be kicked out of the government easily. They sealed off entrances to the NACC recently, and someone threw grenades at the building one night last week. As Reuters reports, “they are mustering recruits to be sent for military-style training in order to protect their own protesters if they go to the barricades.”

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