Thai leader Yingluck refuses to attend anti-corruption hearing

Prime minister flies north as supporters see commission as opposition attempt to take power

Supporters greet Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in the northern town of Chiang Mai today. Photograph: Reuters

Supporters greet Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in the northern town of Chiang Mai today. Photograph: Reuters

Thu, Feb 27, 2014, 19:12

Embattled Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra hunkered down in her northern stronghold of Chiang Mai today, declining to attend an anti-graft panel hearing into negligence charges related to a rice subsidy scheme.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) says it has enough evidence to charge her and by skipping the agency’s meeting, the anti-graft body could force her impeachment by the Senate or even criminal charges. The agency is expected to issue its decision within two months.

The commission said it was also prepared to charge parliamentarians from her Pheu Thai party with attempting to overthrow the form of government, after they sought to change the selection process for members of the Senate.

Yingluck’s supporters see the commission as an attempt to take power by manipulating the constitution, while the opposition says it is a genuine attempt to bring the government to account.

“It is important that we hear all the facts from both sides,” said NACC official Vichai Vivatsaevee. “We do not have a ruling in mind.”

Months of protests

If the commission manages to oust Yingluck, it will succeed where the opposition has so far failed, despite months of protests, which began in November and have left 22 people dead and more than 700 wounded.

The opposition, mainly composed of the Bangkok middle class and business interests, and backed by the judiciary, are trying to unseat Yingluck.

They want to prevent any possible attempt to return by her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who they see as the real power behind the government. They are led by former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who is calling for an unelected “people’s council” to tackle what they see as graft and a culture of money politics.

The protesters have occupied major intersections in Bangkok with protest camps, and boycotted this month’s general election, which remains incomplete.

The opposition says the corruption is orchestrated by Yingluck and Thaksin, who was ousted after a coup in 2006 and lives overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption.

As Yingluck flew to Chiang Mai, gunmen opened fire near several opposition protest sites in Bangkok.