March 22, 2014 4:29 am JST

Legal woes may yet topple Thailand's prime minister

TORU TAKAHASHI, Nikkei staff writer

BANGKOK -- With no resolution in sight for the Thai political deadlock, the focus is shifting to the possibility that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will lose her job on account of charges pressed by an anti-corruption commission.

     The Constitutional Court decision to nullify last month's election turns back the clock to three and a half months ago, when Yingluck dissolved the lower house. But with anti-government protesters vowing to disrupt the do-over, the nation is certain to remain in political limbo.

     The first of Yingluck's many legal issues involves rice subsidies, in which the government effectively pays above-market prices to buy the crop from farmers. Allegations of corruption and of losing large amounts of money have surfaced regarding this key policy of the Yingluck government, which came to power in August 2011. Yingluck has been accused of neglecting her duty by ignoring warnings about damage to the country as well as abuse of her authority.

     Yingluck will likely defend herself before the anti-corruption commission by March 29, with the panel expected to decide whether to press charges in early April at the soonest. Should the commission make an impeachment request to the upper house, the prime minister will be suspended from performing her duties at that point. Another cabinet member would become acting prime minister, and the current caretaker government would remain in place.

     Another challenge faced by Yingluck involves legislation, struck down by the court March 12, authorizing the government to raise 2 trillion baht ($61.7 billion) to finance large infrastructure projects. The main opposition party is poised to ask the anti-corruption commission to press charges against Yingluck and other ministers who pushed for the measure. A decision by the panel to seek her impeachment could lead to the resignation of not only Yingluck herself, but also the entire cabinet.