Thai farmers back ex-PM’s party
BANGKOK/KHON KAEN: As the trial of former prime minister of Thailand Yingluck Shinawatra over an extravagant rice subsidy programme winds to a close, her rural supporters are resisting attempts by the ruling junta to silence her family’s political machine.
Yingluck and her Puea Thai Party say the trial is politically motivated, aimed at discrediting a populist movement that has won every election since 2001.
Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra first introduced the rice programmes before he himself was ousted in a 2006 coup. But Yingluck took it a step further by offering to buy rice from farmers at up to 50% above market prices.
The measure helped her sweep to power in the 2011 general election. But government losses from the scheme – which also distorted global rice prices – helped fuel protests that led to her removal from power days before the 2014 coup.
If found guilty, Yingluck like her brother Thaksin, would be disqualified from becoming premier again.
Thaksin has been living in self-imposed exile for 11 years to avoid serving a two-year sentence over a corrupt land deal.
That has left political circles guessing who would lead the party in the next election, scheduled for next year, and whether that leader could possibly be someone outside the Shinawatra clan that has dominated the movement until now.
Farmers from the Shinawatra powerbase in the north-east said they would vote for the Puea Thai Party again in the next election.
“The Yingluck rice scheme made rice farmers prosperous from having a reliable income that came on time,” said Paisan Pachanda, 59, a rice farmer and co-operative leader in Khon Kaen, a major commercial hub that lies on a plateau in the centre of the north-east region.
“If there’s an election… people in the north-east will still vote for the Puea Thai Party, even if there is no Shinawatra in the party,” he said.
Even the rival Democrat Party concedes Puea Thai remains unchallenged in the north-east.
“Puea Thai Party’s political base, its MPs and politicians have developed strong networks in the north-east,” said Ong-art Klampaiboon, deputy leader of the Democrat Party.
“So even if the party changes its leadership it is unlikely that it will affect its strong bonds on the ground,” he said.