BANGKOK - In Thailand, the ruling military’s hand-picked national assembly impeached the country’s last elected prime minister Friday in a secret ballot. This comes eight months after Yingluck Shinawatra was forced out as the country’s political leader.
Hours before the impeachment vote, an announcement by the attorney general’s office that former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra would face criminal indictment for negligence of duty as a state official seemed to seal her fate.
After the indictment announcement and impeachment action Friday, Yingluck called the moves "not unexpected," posting on her Facebook page a long message in which she said "I will fight to prove my innocence, regardless of the result.”
Lawmakers in the junta-appointed national legislative assembly, which is stacked with military officers and Yingluck’s political enemies, later held a secret ballot on whether to impeach her.
National Legislative Assembly President Pornpet Wichitcholchia announced the vote results.
He said 190 votes were cast in favor, 18 against and there were eight abstentions and three voided ballots, thus the yes votes are in excess of the three-fifths ratio needed for impeachment.
This means the former prime minister will be ineligible to run in any election for the next five years.
A criminal conviction, in a case that will be heard by the supreme court, could put her in prison for up to 10 years.
The former prime minister has insisted in her appearances during the impeachment proceedings that there was no corruption involved in a bungled and costly rice pledging scheme at the heart of the impeachment and criminal charges against her.
Yingluck contended that she never had any thoughts of cheating, neglecting her duty or that she engaged in any behavior that was corrupt.
On Thursday, Yingluck told the appointed body that its activities against her have a hidden agenda and are driven by politics.
She said any move to sideline her from politics would violate her “fundamental rights and freedom.”
A former national security advisor in the Yingluck government, Sean Boonpracong, said the actions betray those who took the military at its word that political reconciliation and tackling economic difficulties would follow the coup.
“I foresee a difficult period ahead with more economic activity not addressed as they said they would. So we’re going to have to wait and see. But I don’t foresee anything else but the country taking a turn on its unpredictable path,” said Boonpracong.
Thailand’s military government warned before the impeachment vote that it would take action if Yingluck’s supporters took to the streets.
The former national security advisor, however, does not foresee any such significant public demonstrations.
“My information corresponds with army intelligence that it’s unlikely the Reds or Pheu Thai [party] voters would take to the street. And, also, a second condition [they face] being martial law which restricts and would put themselves in a legal difficulty or they could be arrested,” he continued.
Yingluck won a landslide election in 2011, putting her family back into power five years after her older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a coup.
He has been in self-imposed exile as he faces prison for a corruption conviction should he return home.
His sister was forced from the prime minister’s office by a court verdict just weeks before a coup on May 22 last year.
Then-army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha led the bloodless coup and appointed himself as junta leader. Now a retired general, he has stayed at the helm since then and engineered his appointment as prime minister.
Junta officials have previously acknowledged they intend to eradicate permanently the influence of the Shinawatra family from Thai politics.
Parties backed by Thaksin, a former policeman who became a telecommunications tycoon, have won every election in the kingdom since 2001.
The army stepping in to remove civilian governments is a frequent occurrence in Thailand.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej (also known as Rama IX), currently the world’s longest serving head of state, holds ultimate power. But the 87-year-old monarch has been frail for some years and now rarely appears in public.
Many Thais worry about the kingdom’s stability once Bhumibol is no longer on the scene.
Military rule is favored by many of the elites and much of the Bangkok middle class, not only because it brought an end to political violence on the streets but also to preserve order when royal succession occurs.
Open discussion of whether Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 62, the heir apparent, should succeed his father is taboo in Thailand. And there has been an increase since the latest coup in the number of cases filed under the kingdom’s harsh lese majeste laws.
That, combined with continuing martial law, the abrogation of the constitution and decrees limiting freedom of expression and assembly has had a chilling effect not only on dissent but also on public debate about Thailand’s future.