Ex-Thai PM's party vows calm, U.S. calls for inclusive politics

Reuters
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Ousted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra delivers her statement at the National Legislative Assembly meeting in Bangkok

Ousted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra delivers her statement at the National Legislative Assembly meeting in Bangkok January 22, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's Puea Thai Party vowed on Monday it would not retaliate a five-year political ban imposed on the ousted leader, and a leading party figure said their movement could survive without the powerful family.

In a near identical repeat of her billionaire brother's fall from power, Yingluck was last week banned from politics for five years and indicted on criminal charges over her involvement in a state rice buying scheme that cost Thailand billions of dollars.

Yingluck's supporters say the charges against her are an attempt to limit the political influence of her brother, ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and weaken his Puea Thai Party.

Anusorn Iamsa-ard, spokesman for the Puea Thai Party, said the decision to ban Yingluck from politics would not be a trigger for unrest.

"We will not use the decision to impeach [former] Prime Minister Yingluck as a trigger to organise political movements, that is not our intention," Anusorn told Reuters.

Thailand remains under martial law following a May coup which the army said was necessary to restore order after months of political unrest that left nearly 30 dead. The law, imposed nationwide, bans all political gatherings.

The ban and the legal case against Yingluck are the latest twist in a decade of turbulent politics that have pitted Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, himself a former prime minister, against the royalist-military establishment that sees the Shinawatras as a threat and reviles their populist policies.

Both led populist governments toppled in coups and were subjected to legal action and street protests by pro-establishment activists.

Thaksin fled Thailand to avoid a 2008 jail term for corruption. He has lived abroad since, but retains a strong influence over Thai politics.

In her first public sighting since she was banned from political office, Yingluck met with Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Daniel Russel in Bangkok on Monday.

Russel, the highest-level U.S. official to visit Thailand since the coup, called for a "broader and more inclusive" political process.

"The United States does not take sides in Thai politics. We believe it is for the Thai people to determine the legitimacy of the political and legal processes," Russel told students at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

"We're also particularly concerned that the political process doesn't seem to represent all elements in Thai society."

Thailand's military-appointed legislature last week found Yingluck guilty of negligence over her role in a state rice buying scheme that paid farmers far above market prices for rice.

The same day, the attorney general's office said it would proceed with criminal charges against her for alleged corruption in the rice scheme. If found guilty by the Supreme Court, she could be jailed for up to 10 years.

She is expected to be arraigned in about a month.

Yingluck, who has defended the rice scheme, has vowed to fight the charges.

"ANY SURNAME WILL DO"

Chavalit Vichayasut, a former Puea Thai Party lawmaker, said the survival of the Puea Thai Party was not dependant on the Shinawatras.

"The work of our party does not depend on a surname or a single family. Anyone can work with us. Any surname will do as long as that person intends to work for the country," Chavalit told Reuters. "It doesn't have to be someone from the Shinawatra family."

The military government has said a general election will be held in 2016.

Thailand has been broadly split along north-south political lines since Thaksin's ouster by the military in 2006.

On one side is the Bangkok-based royalist-military establishment, which sees Thaksin, a telecommunications billionaire turned prime minister, as a threat. They accuse Thaksin, the first prime minister in Thailand's history to lead an elected government through a full term in office, of corruption and nepotism.

On the other side are his supporters in the agricultural north and northeast of Thailand, where millions of farmers voted for Yingluck in a 2011 general election.

(Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak, Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Kaweewit Kaewjinda; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)