BANGKOK (Reuters) - Dozens of big signs with the message “no disunity, no fracture” appeared in the Thai capital on Thursday, a day before a much-anticipated court ruling in a case against ousted, former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Police said they had no idea who put up the signs or why, and there was no confirmation the call for unity was issued in anticipation of the Friday verdict, which could see Thailand’s first woman prime minister jailed for 10 years on charges of mismanaging a multi-billion dollar rice-subsidy scheme.
No matter which way the verdict goes, it will be a landmark in more than a decade of sometimes-violent struggle for power between rival Thai factions.
The ruling military has said more than 3,000 of Yingluck’s supporters could show up at the court in what would be one of the biggest political gatherings since her government was ousted in a 2014 coup. Thousands of policemen will be on duty.
Yingluck, who has denied wrongdoing and has said she is the victim of political persecution, appealed in a Facebook statement on Thursday for supporters not to go to the court but to watch proceedings from home instead.
Nevertheless, with fears of a return of the street violence that has erupted regularly over the years, the reason for the signs, to many people in Bangkok, was clear.
“We don’t know if this is related to the Yingluck trial or not. We can’t comment but you can make your own deductions,” an officer at central Bangkok’s Lumpini police station told Reuters.
City officials said they would take down the signs because they had been put up without permission.
Police would investigate but were unlikely to press charges, a senior officer said.
“The message on display on the signs is positive. It does not cause public disorder and is not considered a breach of the government’s order,” Major General Panurat Lakboon, deputy city police commissioner, told Reuters, referring to a military government ban on public displays of political activity.
“We are unlikely to press charges on this but will check the security cameras to find out who is responsible.”
Under the multi-billion dollar subsidy scheme, Yingluck’s government bought rice from farmers at inflated prices, leading to unsold stockpiles, distorted world prices and losses of $8 billion, this government says.
Critics said the scheme was engineered by Yingluck’s brother, populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to shore up support among rural voters who have handed electoral victory to a Shinawatra party in every election since 2001.
The military said it had to seize power in 2014 to end turmoil and has promised to hold an election next year under a new constitution that guarantees it oversight of government.
Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Robert Birsel