Ex-Thai PM stresses rule of law as sister appears in court

Ex-Thai PM stresses rule of law as sister appears in court

Seoul (AFP) - Thailand's wildly divisive billionaire former premier Thaksin Shinawatra on Tuesday told Asian governments the "rule of law" was key to democracy, nearly a year after the military toppled his sister's administration.

Thaksin's rare comments came as his sister Yingluck appeared in a Bangkok court to plead not guilty to negligence over a costly rice subsidy policy during her stint as premier, which was ended by the courts just days before last May's coup.

Telecoms tycoon-turned-premier Thaksin sits at the heart of a decade-long political rupture in Thailand and has lived in self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid jail on a graft charge he says was politically motivated.

He was also toppled in a coup, in 2006, yet Shinawatra family members or affiliates have still won every Thai election since.

"The key to good governance and democracy is you have to strike a balance" between the judicial, legislative and executive branches, he said at the Asian Leadership Conference in Seoul.

"And also you have to observe the rule of law, which is a very important asset for each country to be credible."

He has kept a low profile since the Thai military's takeover.

The Shinawatras are hated by the Bangkok elite and their royalist supporters in the nation's south, the courts and the military -- which has battered them with two coups in less than a decade.

Opponents accuse the Shinawatras of cronyism, corruption and financially ruinous populist policies.

But they are loved in the nation's rural northern half for populist policies that tapped into changing social and economic demands, such as the rice subsidy, virtually free healthcare and grants for university places.

"In every country there (are) two different societies, always: the rich and the poor, those who have opportunities and (those with) less opportunities," he added.

"We need to eradicate poverty, especially in emerging countries in order to let people choose the good politicians and keep a good democracy."

His comments did not specifically reference Thailand but are nonetheless likely to chime with his so-called "Red Shirt" supporters.

They and other anti-coup groups have been muzzled by the Thai junta, which marks a year in power on Friday.

Yingluck Shinatwatra was ousted by the Thai courts a week before the military took power.

She faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty over the financially ruinous rice scheme, which paid poor rural farmers twice the market rate for their crop.

Analysts say the charges are part of an elite-sponsored bid to smash her family's electoral dominance.