Bangkok: Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was banned from travelling overseas on Tuesday at the start of her trial on negligence charges, the latest in a slew of cases her supporters say are part of an attempt to tighten the junta’s grip on power.
In a move likely to delay any return to democratic rule, the Thai cabinet agreed on Tuesday that a referendum should be held on a new constitution and the military’s blueprint for restoring democracy.
Yingluck was forced from office a year ago after Thailand’s Constitutional Court found her guilty of abuse of power. Weeks later, the military staged a coup that removed the remnants of her government.
She is accused of dereliction of duty for her role in a multi-billion dollar rice subsidy scheme that anti-corruption authorities alleged was plagued with graft.
Yingluck, who denies the charges against her, faces up to 10 years in prison if she is found guilty. She has accused her enemies of conducting a witch-hunt against her in order to handicap her powerful family.
Around 200 supporters showed up outside the court on Tuesday. Some shouted: “The people’s prime minister! Yingluck is the people’s prime minister! You must fight on!” The court banned her from travelling overseas, and agreed bail terms of 30 million baht ($899,280). The next hearing is set for July 21.
Referendum on Constitution
The case against Yingluck is the latest twist in a long-running political saga that includes more than a decade of on-off violence that has pitted supporters of 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.
Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Seoul on Tuesday, Thaksin said he had no plans to mobilise his “Red Shirt” supporters but called the first year of the junta government which came to power in a coup “not so impressive”.
“I think democracy will prevail sooner or later, but we have to be patient, and we have to be peaceful,” he said. “Don’t resort to any kind of violence.” Thaksin, who remains hugely influential, was ousted in a 2006 coup and fled abroad to avoid jail for a 2008 corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.
Later on Tuesday, Thai junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters that it would take three months to hold a referendum on a new constitution, something that would push back a general election planned for early 2016.
“It will take three months to hold a referendum ... it could impact the roadmap if we have a referendum.” Yingluck was banned from politics in January when a military-appointed legislature found her guilty over her role in overseeing the disastrous rice subsidy scheme.
The scheme paid farmers above market prices for their rice and cost state coffers billions of dollars in losses.