Thai farm­ers back ex-PM’s party

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

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.

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