Impeachment hearing of ousted Thai PM begins

Impeachment proceedings against Thailand's first woman premier on Friday began with Yingluck Shinawatra's impassioned defence of her loss-making rice subsidy scheme before a military-backed legislature, a move seen as a bid to keep her powerful family out of politics.

PTI| Last Updated: Jan 09, 2015, 16:50 PM IST

Bangkok: Impeachment proceedings against Thailand's first woman premier on Friday began with Yingluck Shinawatra's impassioned defence of her loss-making rice subsidy scheme before a military-backed legislature, a move seen as a bid to keep her powerful family out of politics.

Yingluck, 47, faces impeachment by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) over the controversial programme, which, though popular, cost billions of dollars and triggered protests that toppled her government.

She also faces charges of dereliction of duty in supervising the programme. If impeached, Yingluck could be banned from politics for five years.

Yingluck, who showed up at parliament this morning amid tight security, was greeted by her supporters outside the parliament. But no huge crowd arrived as was anticipated.

Carrying 30 documents containing 139 pages to boost her defence, a smiling Yingluck offered an impassioned defence of the subsidy programme.

"I ran the government with honesty and in accordance with all laws," she told the assembly.

"The rice pledging scheme... (was) aimed to address the livelihood of rice farmers, their debts and falling rice prices," Yingluck said.

"I was removed from office ? the equivalent of being impeached ? three times already. I have no position left to be impeached from. The impeachment today will affect policies aimed at helping farmers in the future."

Yingluck rejected the charges against her and also questioned the necessity of her impeachment, saying it was redundant and unfair.

She said she was "ready for checks and balances so long as they are fair."

Yingluck said: "Rice pledging creates the multiplier effect and therefore more production, investment and gross domestic product."

"The government can then collect more taxes. The programme did not affect fiscal discipline either."

Yingluck said it was unfair to blame her government for

Thailand losing the title of world's largest rice exporter.

"It depends on world rice prices. India changed its policy to competing in terms of price. It had nothing to do with corruption. My proof is that our title was restored in 2014 and all the grain that made it happen came from the scheme."

According to analysts, the impeachment is more about the attempt to keep the powerful Shinawatra family, whose parties have won every election since 2001, out of politics.

Yingluck's supporters also say the proceedings are part of a wider campaign to end the influence of the Shinawatra clan.

She has insisted that Thailand's fragile democracy was under attack from protesters and the army, which staged a coup on May 22 that threw her administration out.

Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was also ousted by the army in a 2006 coup.

After the hearings, the NLA will set up a nine-member panel to ask Yingluck questions raised by assembly members.

The closing statements will be made on January 21 and the NLA, hand-picked by the junta and dominated by active and retired military officers, will hold a meeting to vote in the next three days.