Monday review: Yingluck has gone but what has she left?

After a trial lasting more than two years, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ultimately decided to flee the country before her Rice Pledging Scheme’s judgement day. 
 
Her destination remains unconfirmed though the media have made various guesses including Singapore, Dubai and the UK. Some sources even reported that her brother and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra sent a personal jet to pick up Yingluck from Singapore and transfer her to Dubai.
 
 
Yingluck Shinawatra (Photo from Pantip)
 
But more important than “where is she?” is the question “what is her legacy?” On one hand, Yingluck’s political opponents now have more grounds to condemn her party and supporters for disrespecting the justice system, just as when Thaksin fled the country in 2008. Many of Yingluck’s detractors reacted to her flight with sarcastic comments. 
 
“At first, I was glad that [she] was coming to hear [the verdict]. I was happy and the court was going to take care of her by conducting a fair trial. But then, oh! Absent again!” remarked the junta head.  
 
Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, promised through a Facebook live session that in contrast to Yingluck, he and other leaders will not flee the case they are facing for disrupting the 2014 election. 
 
Among the most controversial condemnations of Yingluck came in the form of a sexist poem by the national artist Phaitoon Thanya. The poem has triggered public anger due to its joking reference to Yingluck’s genitals. A campaign on change.org has been created to collect signatures of those who want to dismiss Phaitoon from his position as a national artist, while 75 artists, writers and academics published a joint statement condemning his poem.
 
But criticisms of Yingluck have been made on the assumption that Thailand’s justice system is fair and impartial. Not only was Yingluck charged with being responsible for corruption committed by other officials, the charges are also based on the huge deficits of the RPS — even though policies that run deficits are not a usual cause for prosecution.
 
Since it is unusual for a Prime Minister to be prosecuted for corruption that they did not commit themselves, state agencies were initially hesitant to pursue the case. The junta therefore invoked Article 44 in late 2016 to grant legal immunity to officials involved in the prosecution, meaning that they cannot be held accountable if the prosecution is later proved malicious or unfair to Yingluck.
 
An excessive punishment for corruption has already been levied on Yingluck’s Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom. His verdict of 42 years in prison was read last Friday. Compared with other large-scale corruption cases, Boonsong’s punishment is flagrantly excessive. 
 
 
Boonsong after hearing the verdict (Photo from Komchadluek)
 
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled Amaret Sila-On, a former Chair of the Financial Sector Restructuring Authority, guilty of corruption. He was responsible for managing the debts of 58 finance institutions after the Tom Yam Kung Crisis.
 
The national loss that Amaret created was estimated at over 6 thousand trillion, while RPS’s losses are valued at only some 500 billion baht. But Amaret only received a two year prison sentence, suspended for three years, a 20,000 baht fine and 24 hours of social service. He was also acquitted in 2014 by the Appeal Court
 
Yingluck’s flight is a reminder that Thailand’s justice system remains biased towards particular political affiliations, making condemnations of Yingluck’s decision to leave the country problematic. 
 
Another case last week that showcased the darkness of Thailand’s justice system was the levying of the death penalty against four who were found guilty of attacking a PDRC rally. Four individuals were convicted of murder, possession of weapons of war, and carrying illegal weapons in public for allegedly using M79 grenade launchers to fire on anti-election protesters in 2014. 
 
But the ruling came after the court dismissed allegations that the four were tortured into confessing. The Supreme Court reduced the sentence to life imprisonment after the defendants pleaded guilty.