The fate of Yingluck and her government will determine the course
of politics in Thailand which is polarized between the supporters of
her and her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and
supporters of the royalist establishment.
The confrontation between the two sides, marked by occasional
violence, has undermined growth in Southeast Asia's second biggest
Yingluck's government has faced months of sometimes violent
anti-government protests but it appeared to be weathering the storm
until legal challenges against her began to mount in February.
The charges Yingluck faces this week relate to the transfer of
National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri in 2011, which
opponents say was done to benefit her party. The Constitutional
Court will decide on Wednesday whether to grant her an extension to
prepare her defense.
If the court eventually finds her guilty, Yingluck will be forced to
"If the court does not grant the prime minister an extension this
week and there is enough evidence, then the next court date will be
the verdict," Constitutional Court spokesman Pimon Thampitakphong
told Reuters on Monday, adding that the verdict could come at the
end of April.
The prime minister has also been charged with dereliction of duty
for overseeing a state rice-buying scheme critics say was riddled
with corruption. The National Anti-Corruption Commission, which
brought the charges against her, rejected a request by her lawyers
last week to allow two more witnesses.
The commission is expected to deliver its ruling in May. If found
guilty, Yingluck could be removed from office and may get a
five-year ban from politics.
Thailand has been in conflict since 2006 when then premier Thaksin
was ousted by the army. The former telecoms tycoon turned populist
politician lives in self-imposed exile but is hugely popular in the
north and northeast.
The crisis broadly pits the Bangkok-based middle class and
conservative establishment, who see Thaksin as a corrupt crony
capitalist and threat to their interests, against the mostly poorer
supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin.
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Long-simmering tension erupted last November when the lower house of
parliament passed an amnesty bill that critics said was designed to
let Thaksin come home without facing jail time for a corruption
conviction he said was politically motivated.
That bill was
eventually rejected by the Senate but the street movement against it
spiraled into a full-blown attempt to remove Yingluck.
The protesters disrupted a snap election she called for February 2,
which was nullified by a court in March.
Last week Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, an election commissioner, said a
new election could be held at the earliest in July.
The protesters, determined to rid the country of Thaksin's
influence, want Yingluck to resign to make way for broad political
and electoral reforms before a new election is held.
Adding to the instability, "red shirt" supporters of the Shinawatras
say they will resist attempts to force Yingluck from office.
"A day before the Constitutional Court hands down its verdict, we
will hold a massive rally near Bangkok to support Yingluck," said
Thanawut Wichaidit, a spokesman for the pro-government United Front
for Democracy Against Dictatorship.
"Thailand is heading toward a dark and dangerous chapter so we must
fight back, but with our voices only and not with weapons."
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat;
editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel)
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