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Politics

Yingluck calls herself 'victim' of politics as trial winds down

Thai police on alert as roughly 1,000 show up to support ousted PM

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is swarmed by supporters and media as she arrives at the Supreme Court in Bangkok on Aug. 1. (Photo by Yukako Ono)

BANGKOK -- Standing trial for neglect of duty, ousted Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Tuesday delivered an emotional closing statement, telling the Supreme Court she is a "victim" of a "political game."

Yingluck is accused of negligence in connection with a botched rice subsidy program she implemented during her tenure. Her government was toppled in a 2014 military coup led by current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Yingluck, who could face up to 10 years in prison, had the option of delivering her closing remarks in writing but appeared in court voluntarily. As she arrived at the court building, shouts of "su su nayok" rang out from a crowd of approximately 1,000. That is Thai for, "Fight for it, prime minister."

Inside, she spoke for an hour and presented a similar defense she had used in previous hearings.

"I have done nothing wrong," she told the packed courtroom, her voice trembling. "I used my experience, as an ordinary woman born in the provinces, who had the opportunity to learn and feel the severe hardships endured by farmers."

The prosecution argues Yingluck failed to prevent losses and manage corruption related to the rice-pledging scheme -- a populist policy that helped her party win the 2011 election.

Under the program, the government promised to buy rice from farmers for as much as 50% above market prices. This is estimated to have saddled the government with losses to the tune of 500 billion baht ($150.2 billion).

Farmers are the main supporters of Yingluck's Pheu Thai party. The party inherited the support base of her elder brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is now in exile after being ousted by a military coup in 2006. 

Yingluck stressed the rice policy helped provide farmers a "better quality of life."

"I am aware that I am a victim of a subtle political game," Yingluck said in her statement, asking the court to "please kindly consider the facts and surrounding circumstances that prevailed when I was prime minister, not assumptions and the present circumstances that have changed."

The trial, which began in January 2016, is scheduled to wrap up with a ruling on Aug. 25. Under the new constitution promulgated this April, Yingluck will have the right to appeal.

"How can she be guilty?"

Outside the court, supporters explained their rationale for showing up, while some 300 police officers stood guard.

"Democratic people must come here to support Prime Minister Yingluck," said Pongsak Pusitsakul, a 58-year-old doctor from Ratchaburi Province, west of Bangkok.

Thitiporn Inpumadadab, a 59-year-old from Nakonrachasima Province, said she wanted justice. "We benefited from the rice scheme. How can she be guilty while she helped us farmers?"

Police were monitoring social media for posts aimed at stirring unrest at the court, according to local media.

Later in the afternoon, Prayuth told reporters in his weekly briefing that Yingluck's case "depends totally on the court's decision." Stressing his government had issued no orders on the matter, he said, "We have to move the country forward with justice."

Touching on concerns that a harsh verdict against Yingluck could spark protests, he said: "Will there be a chaos? It depends on the people and politicians."

It is unusual for a former Thai prime minister to face trial for policies implemented while in office. Besides the criminal charges, Yingluck is also facing a civil liability action from the government.

Last month, the military government seized 12 of her bank accounts, following a resolution that she should pay 35 billion baht to the state as compensation for the rice-pledging losses.

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