BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand’s junta chief on Tuesday warned the military will “take action” under martial law if protests occur as a result of impeachment proceedings against ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra.
On Friday the army-stacked National Legislative Assembly (NLA) will begin the impeachment of former Prime Minister Yingluck for driving through a costly rice subsidy scheme.
Thailand’s first female premier, who is due to appear at the assembly on Friday, was removed from office by a court ruling shortly before the military coup in May knocked out the rump of her administration.
Observers say a vote to impeach her – which carries an automatic five-year ban from politics – could stir her ‘Red Shirt’ supporters to protest, ending months of relative calm since the army grabbed power and imposed martial law on the kingdom.
But junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the prime minister, shrugged off any potential revival of the street protests which have blistered Thailand’s recent political history.
“There will be no protest, they can’t protest. If they don’t accept the ruling, we will take action, that’s it,” he told reporters.
“What is the condition of martial law? No political movement,” he said, urging the public to allow the NLA to reach its conclusion, which is due before the end of the month.
A successful impeachment needs three fifths of the 250-strong national legislature to vote in favour.
Critics say the NLA is driving through a junta-led agenda to dismantle the power base of Thaksin Shinawatra – Yingluck’s older brother who lives in self-exile to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.
“Driving her (Yingluck) out of politics could instigate resentment among her political supporters,” said Thai academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, of Kyoto University.
“Thailand is Thailand and the rule of law can be bent to serve the power interests of the elites.”
Thaksin, who was deposed as premier in a 2006 coup, sits at the heart of Thailand’s deep schism.
He is loathed by the Bangkok-centred establishment and its supporters among the judiciary and army, but still enjoys support in the nation’s poor but populous northern half.
Shinawatra-led or aligned parties have won every election since 2001.
In that time they have been battered by two coups and seen three other premiers banned by the kingdom’s interventionist courts.
The Shinawatras’ electoral dominance comes as concerns mount over Thailand’s future once the reign of revered 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej ends.
While popular among Yingluck’s rural voters, the loss-making rice policy galvanised the protests against her government that presaged the coup.
The scheme punched a hole in Thai finances and led to huge rice stockpiles as buyers baulked at the attempt by Yingluck’s administration to fund the multi-billion dollar subsidy by hoarding the grain to force up global prices.
The junta has said fresh polls are unlikely before 2016 as it seeks to re-write the constitution and enact sweeping reforms aimed at rooting out corruption.