BANGKOK (Reuters) - With legal cases against her mounting, embattled Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra pleaded on Tuesday for fair and proper treatment from the national anti-corruption commission and Thailand’s Constitutional Court.
Thailand’s political crisis looks set to enter a new, potentially turbulent phase as Yingluck faces at least two legal cases that could see her removed from office in coming weeks, a move that is likely to jolt her supporters in to action and bring the country closer, some fear, to civil strife.
“I ask that the Constitutional Court and National Anti-Corruption Commission use fair treatment when they deliberate the cases against me. I ask for the same treatment that past political office holders have received,” Yingluck told reporters in Bangkok on Tuesday.
Her supporters have accused the Constitutional Court of bias in frequently ruling against the government. They also question the speed with which the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has pursued her over a failed government rice subsidy scheme. The scheme has run up huge losses and left hundreds of thousands of farmers unpaid.
Yingluck has been charged with dereliction of duty in overseeing the cash-draining scheme that helped bring her to power in 2011 on a wave of support from rural voters.
Should the commission forward the case to the Senate for possible impeachment, Yingluck, who is nominally head of the National Rice Committee, would be suspended from official duties. Any decision could take weeks.
Yingluck said on Tuesday that her legal team would ask for four additional witnesses in the rice case. She was given more time by the NACC to call on three witnesses last week.
Last week the Constitutional Court accepted a new case against Yingluck over her removal of the national security chief three years ago. She has been given 15 days to mount a defense.
“It was a simple transfer of a civil servant,” Yingluck told reporters on Tuesday.
“Again, I hope the court will act justly in this case.”
Her comments follow a three day rally by pro-government “red shirt” supporters on the outskirts of Bangkok who vowed to protect Yingluck against any move that could topple her, raising the political temperature after months of tumult.
In their biggest show of strength in months, tens of thousands of government supporters holding pictures of Yingluck and Thaksin gathered along a scenic country road over the weekend and said they were ready to counter any attempt by Yingluck’s opponents to remove her.
Red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan told supporters that the rally was a “rehearsal for the real fight which will begin after Songkran”, referring to the upcoming Thai New Year holiday.
For five months, anti-government protesters have held noisy street rallies and disrupted a February 2 general election, that was nullified by a court in March, in a bid to dislodge Yingluck and to usher in political reforms before a new general election.
They want to rid the country of the influence of Yingluck’s billionaire brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who they accuse of rampant corruption and nepotism.
Thailand has been divided along political lines since Thaksin’s ouster. The latest crisis broadly pits anti-government protesters, made up of middle class Bangkok residents and southern Thais, against the mostly poorer supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin from the rural north and northeast.
Twenty-four people have been killed and more than 700 injured since protests flared up in November.
Additional reporting by Pilaiporn Promsompan; Editing by Michael Perry