Thailand’s military junta might have got the result it wanted when former leader Yingluck Shinawatra fled the country before a court could hand down a verdict in her negligence trial last week, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Her flight freed the generals from the risk that she could be viewed as a martyr if she were convicted and jailed for allegedly mismanaging a botched multibillion-dollar rice subsidy.
Yingluck, 50, and the mother of a young son, was facing up to 10 years in prison for a crime she says she didn’t commit. Thousands of supporters, many of whom benefited from the subsidy before her government was ousted in 2014, converged on Bangkok to hear the verdict last Friday, matched by as many if not more police.
While the prospect of mass disturbances appears to have been averted, many people here say the political forces Yingluck and her older brother Thaksin Shinawatra unleashed with their policies favoring the poor will continue to pose a threat to Thailand’s militarist old guard. And the turmoil that has hamstrung what was once one of Asia’s fastest-growing “tiger” economies will likely continue.
“The Shinawatras left a crucial imprint upon Thailand of waking up the political aspirations of Thailand’s rural majority with the implementation of welfare policies. Rural voters are not likely to forget this,” said Paul Chambers, an expert on the country’s politics and lecturer at the College of ASEAN Studies at Thailand’s Naresuan University.
The government didn’t respond to requests for comment. People familiar with the military’s thinking said the junta had grown wary of mass protests erupting if Yingluck were jailed. They feared a repeat of the rioting that racked Bangkok after a 2006 coup ousted Thaksin, who then fled the country to evade a corruption conviction.
One person close to the situation said the junta aimed to gradually increase the pressure on Yingluck until she too broke and fled. It isn’t yet clear where Yingluck has gone; people close to her political party said only that she had left. Her brother Thaksin spends much of his time in Dubai. Yingluck couldn’t be reached for comment.
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