Yingluck sells rice as ten­sion rises over plight of farm­ers

The Myanmar Times - - World -

OUSTED Thai prime min­is­ter Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra doled out sacks of rice to hun­dreds of star-struck shop­pers in her lat­est move to out­shine junta ef­forts to sup­port farm­ers hit by a price plunge.

Tum­bling rice prices have spread an­guish across Thai­land’s ru­ral heart­lands and sent the junta scram­bling to roll out res­cue pack­ages and head off po­ten­tial un­rest.

Ms Yingluck, whose govern­ment was top­pled in the 2014 coup, has also seized the mo­ment to rally be­hind rice farm­ers – the core sup­port base of her fam­ily’s po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty.

In her lat­est gam­bit to con­nect with the party faith­ful with­out vi­o­lat­ing a junta ban on pol­i­tics, Ms Yingluck trav­elled to the ru­ral north­east this week to buy sev­eral truck­loads of rice from strug­gling farm­ers.

On Novem­ber 5 the ex-premier set up shop in a Bangkok park­ing lot to sell sacks of the sta­ple grain to fren­zied fans.

Hun­dreds of sup­port­ers lined up and squealed with de­light as the 49-year-old be­gan hand­ing out bags of rice from the back of a pick-up truck, priced at 20 baht (US$0.57) per kilo­gram.

Ms Yingluck and her bil­lion­aire brother Thaksin, a fel­low ex-premier ousted in a 2006 coup, are loved by large swathes of the ru­ral and ur­ban poor who see them as cham­pi­ons of the down­trod­den.

But their crit­ics tell a dif­fer­ent story. A Bangkok-based elite and their al­lies in the mil­i­tary have cast the Shi­nawa­tras as cor­rupt politi­cians who ma­nip­u­late the poor with pop­ulist hand­outs.

An­a­lysts say the rul­ing junta is bent on pre­vent­ing a po­lit­i­cal come­back from the fam­ily and has sig­nif­i­cantly hemmed in their move­ment by ar­rest­ing crit­ics and ban­ning dis­sent.

Ms Yingluck is cur­rently fac­ing up to 10 years in prison and a US$1 bil­lion fine over her ad­min­is­tra­tion’s rice pol­icy, which pros­e­cu­tors say was soaked in graft and cost the state bil­lions of dol­lars.

But while the junta has skew­ered Ms Yingluck over her rice scheme, last week it ap­proved at least $1.3 bil­lion in sim­i­lar loans and sub­si­dies for farm­ers bat­tered by the price fall.

Junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha says the res­cue mea­sures are a short­term so­lu­tion and has warned against “politi­cis­ing” the is­sue. –

Photo: AFP

For­mer Thai prime min­is­ter Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra hands a bag of rice to one of her sup­port­ers out­side of a shop­ping mall in Bangkok on Novem­ber 5.

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