Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra failed to show Friday for the verdict in her show trial by the military junta which seized power three years ago. The Supreme Court postponed its ruling, almost certainly a conviction, and issued an arrest warrant.
Shinawatra undoubtedly feared the dictatorship's notion of "justice." In the same case the commerce and deputy commerce ministers in her government were sentenced to an astonishing 42 year and 36 years in prison, respectively. Of course, the trial never was fair. It was orchestrated by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. Installed as prime minister at the head of the self-proclaimed National Council for Peace and Order, he is a comic figure highly sensitive to criticism and with delusions of grandeur. But he brooks no opposition.
He declared himself to have a “democratic heart” while arresting students for making the three-finger salute popularized in the Hunger Games movie. Last year the dictator, who after ousting the elected government composed a song on happiness for his countrymen, brought criminal charges against those who used Facebook to mock his manifold foibles. “They can’t make fun of me” the very unhappy generalissimo declared. To even share or “like” a parody of the great man is deemed illegal. Such is the regime’s vigilance that a 14-year-old boy was arrested in May for alleged lese majeste, a crime often charged against democracy advocates.
The generalissimo’s determination to stay in power after failing to act on his promise to restore democracy is reflected in the prosecution of Shinawatra in a criminal case involving a pork barrel rice subsidy scheme she implemented after being elected prime minister in 2011. It was bad policy, not illicit corruption, and the junta’s puppet legislature previously used “retrospective impeachment” to convict her of negligence and ban her from politics through 2019.
However, the dictator obviously remains afraid of the populist movement created by Shinawatra’s brother, Thaksin, who was elected prime minister in 2001, only to be ousted by the military in 2006. Thaksin Shinawatra horrified the urban elite by creating an electoral majority built on strong support among the rural poor. But the military’s post-coup attempt to rig the electoral process against democracy failed. Although Thaksin Shinawatra remained in exile, his party won successive elections, making Yingluck Shinawatra prime minister in 2011. However, Bangkok remained an opposition bastion and her opponents turned out mobs which made the country almost ungovernable.