Ousted Thai Leader Yingluck Urges Junta to Write Charter for All

Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government was ousted in a military coup and who faces jail for alleged negligence, urged the ruling junta to write a fair constitution ahead of a return to elections in the second half of next year.

“You have to live with this constitution, so please make sure it fits with Thailand, it fits with the whole country,” Yingluck said Friday at her home in Bangkok.

A referendum on the charter -- the country’s 20th -- is scheduled for July 31, after the junta’s reform council rejected an earlier draft. The delay in returning the country to democracy has tested Thailand’s relationships with allies including the U.S. and threatens to further slow an economy battered by three straight annual declines in exports.

Yingluck said elections and democracy are needed to accelerate growth and boost confidence in the country.

“The faster we get the election, I think we can do economic growing faster,” she said.

Low Profile

The move to invite reporters to her home represents a change of tactics for Yingluck and her brother, former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains the brains behind a political machine that has won every national election over the past 15 years. Thaksin fled abroad to avoid jail time on corruption charges brought after his own government’s ouster in a 2006 coup.

Both kept a low profile after the latest military takeover in May 2014, with Yingluck limiting public appearances to shopping trips or visits to Buddhist temples in rural areas where she draws crowds of supporters. She focused most of her publicity efforts online, posting photos, holiday greetings and the occasional call for the junta to treat her with fairness.

That has changed in recent months. Yingluck and Thaksin each distributed coffee-table books at the start of the year about their lives and time in office, while Thaksin used a Lunar New Year video with party members to blast the draft constitution and urge them to prepare for elections, according to the Nation newspaper.

“We need to find the balance,” Yingluck said, referring to the lack of discussion of political and economic challenges in Thailand, where the junta regularly detains critics and political gatherings are outlawed. “We need some small space to talk sometimes.”

Rice Losses

The publicity blitz coincides with the start of Yingluck’s criminal trial on charges she was negligent for not stopping alleged graft in her government’s rice-purchasing program. Yingluck, who was retroactively impeached by the junta’s legislature and banned from politics for five years over the subsidy, faces 10 years in prison if convicted in the trial, which started last month.

Like her brother, Yingluck has denied the allegations, saying the case is politically motivated and being pushed by the forces behind the coup. “We try to prove ourselves to both the court and the public,” she said. “We hope one day people will understand.”

Yingluck’s party swept into office in 2011 elections, in part by appealing to millions of rice farmers with a plan to buy their crops at above-market rates. She has argued the program was aimed at reducing inequality, while her opponents said it encouraged corruption and was a form of vote buying.

While losses from the program at one point grew to an estimated 500 billion baht ($14 billion) there has yet to be a corruption conviction in connection with the subsidy. Nevertheless, the junta is seeking to seize Yingluck’s assets in order to pay back the government for the economic damage it claims the program caused.

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