Embattled Thai PM Testifies in Abuse of Power Case

By Thanyarat Doksone 7 May 2014

BANGKOK — A Thai court will issue a ruling on Wednesday that could remove Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office, raising the possibility that the legal system could accomplish what protesters have been trying to do for six months through street demonstrations.

Yingluck defended herself on Tuesday against abuse of power allegations in a key case that is one of several legal challenges that could force her from her job. She is accused of abusing her authority by transferring her National Security Council chief in 2011 to another position.

A group of anti-government senators, who lodged the case, say the transfer was to benefit Yingluck’s ruling party and violated the constitution.

“I would like to deny all allegations I am accused of,” Yingluck said calmly, seated beside her legal team. “As the prime minister, I am entitled to carry out responsibilities I have toward the people … and for the utmost benefit of the general public.”

Judge Charoon Intachan said after her testimony that the court would rule on Wednesday. Members of her Cabinet who were in office at the time of the transfer could also be found liable.

Yingluck’s testimony at the Constitutional Court marked the latest twist in Thailand’s ongoing political crisis. Supporters accuse the courts of trying to topple Yingluck through unfair use of the legal system after six months of anti-government protests failed to unseat her. Her supporters say the courts are biased against her and her political allies.

In February, another court ruled that the official, Thawil Pliensri, must be restored to his job. That ruling by the Administrative Court found that while it was within Yingluck’s right to reshuffle civil servants, she had failed to address the reasons for the transfer. If Yingluck is found guilty of interfering in state affairs for her personal benefit or that of her political party, she would have to step down as prime minister.

Thailand has been gripped by political conflict since 2006, when then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s billionaire brother, was ousted in a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have each taken to the streets for extended periods in a power struggle that is currently focused on removing Yingluck, who took office in 2011. Opponents say she is a proxy for her brother, who is living overseas in self-imposed exile.

More than 20 people have been killed in protest-related violence since November.

Currently, Yingluck is a caretaker prime minister, having called early elections in February as a way of affirming her mandate after the protests against her began. However, the Feb. 2 polls were subsequently annulled by the Constitutional Court and new polls have been scheduled for July.