Bangkok: Hundreds of fans mobbed ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra as she arrived at court Friday to give evidence at her negligence trial, where she implored supporters to vote on a contentious referendum this weekend.
Yingluck, Thailand`s first female premier, was dumped from office by a court days before army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha seized power in May 2014.
She was retroactively impeached over a financially ruinous rice subsidy scheme that funnelled cash to her farming base, and is facing a trial which could see her jailed for up to ten years.
The rice scheme was a major catalyst in the debilitating protests that presaged the military takeover.
In a sign of her enduring star power among supporters, Yingluck was met by several hundred people outside the court.
In a frenzied atmosphere, many supporters handed her red roses -- a nod to the colour of their grassroots movement.
She repeated her plea of innocence of the negligence charge to the crowd, saying the billions of dollars of losses occurred after she was booted from office.
Yingluck also urged Thais to vote on Sunday`s referendum on a new military-scripted constitution, the first test of public opinion on army rule since its power grab.
"I want to invite all Thais to go for the vote," she said.
"I don`t want small turnout otherwise the result won`t be what we want, if we want to see democracy have a future."
Yingluck`s Pheu Thai party has expressed fears of a low turnout -- with many among their rural support base unsure of how the new charter affects them.Campaigning against the document has been effectively banned and many have not seen the draft they are expected to vote on.
A low turnout is likely to favour the military, which says the document will bring long-term stability, rein-in avaricious politicians and prevent any party from becoming too dominant.
Junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha told reporters Friday he will vote for the document and hit out at his detractors.
"If I am dictator as they have accused me, why bother holding referendum and elections?" he said.
But opponents say the charter will lead to a straightjacketed democracy, weak coalition governments controlled by an appointed senate and enable courts and other agencies to hamper policy making.
Thailand has been deeply divided since the 2006 ousting of Thaksin Shinawatra by the military.
Shinawatra-led or aligned governments have won every election since 2001, powered to government by the working class and rural poor who laud the clan for recognising their changing aspirations in a deeply hierarchical and economically divided society.
But the military and its Bangkok-centric establishment allies have hit back with coups and court rulings.
This week the junta said the rice scheme cost the state $8 billion and threatened to sue Yingluck -- whose billionaire brother Thaksin sits at the heart of the country`s caustic divide -- for compensation.
In court Yingluck told judges that Thai governments, both civilian and military, had long paid subsidies to farmers.
"This is not a new policy, it has been used for 30 years," she she said.
A conviction, she added, would set a precedent for future civilian administrations who might put off policy decisions for fear of prosecution.
Hundreds of supporters remained outside the courthouse as she gave evidence, many critical of junta rule.
"Now people are suffering, farmers are suffering," Mayuree Tohom, a 63-year-old woman sporting a hat featuring Yingluck, told AFP.
"In the past two years nothing has got better. Farmers have headaches and a lot of debt."