BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - More than four months after fugitive former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is known to have fled the country, the powers-that-be seem to still be in the dark over her current whereabouts. But, are they really unaware and are they serious about finding out where she has been in hiding?
The developments over the past months regarding the roles of the government and relevant authorities have led to a question: Are they really serious about bringing Yingluck back to Thailand?
Yingluck fled the country on August 23, two days before the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders was scheduled to deliver a verdict in the negligence case against her that stemmed from her government’s corruption-plagued rice-pledging scheme. In September, the court sentenced her to five years in jail and she did not appeal against either the verdict or the sentence.
The Thai government and authorities often seem to have been one step behind her, from the day she fled the country, then flew to Dubai, moved to the United Kingdom, and sought political asylum there. They said their counterparts in those countries, including the UK and the United Arab Emirates, did not fully cooperate with them in their hunt for Yingluck, but the Thai authorities – police and public prosecutors included – have not shown a strong determination in pressing those countries.
Political observers view that a situation in which Yingluck is outside the country is a win-win for the ruling junta, which came to power by overthrowing her government in May 2014. If they succeeded in having Yingluck extradited to Thailand and serving her prison sentence, General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government risks angering her supporters and undermining the current fragile political stability.
Ekachai Chainuvati, a legal expert and political critic, said yesterday he could not conclude that the junta was not serious in pursuing Yingluck. He explained that it was rather because the Thai government had no extradition treaty in place with the UK to have the fugitive former PM sent home.
On the other hand the law professor agreed that Yingluck’s absence from Thailand was clearly advantageous to the junta.
“Yingluck has been handed down a five-year jail term. If she were in the Kingdom, she would have been punished and sent to prison. It would have been the first time that a former prime minister had been jailed,” Ekachai said. “Considering also the controversy over the rice case, the NCPO would have to put up with considerable political pressure throughout her imprisonment,” he said, referring to the National Council for Peace and Order.
Ekachai also considered it to be easier for the NCPO if Yingluck remained overseas, saying her influence was less from there than if she were back home.
The people in power are obviously treating Yingluck the same way they have dealt with her brother Thaksin, who has lived in exile since 2008 and thus escaped serving a two-year jail term for abuse of power, the observers said. Thaksin has been able to freely travel to different countries, including some of Thailand’s neighbours, and there have been no serious attempts to seek his extradition.
Some observers said they suspected a secret deal had been reached between the powers-that-be and the Thaksin camp for Yingluck to be allowed to stay out of Thailand, in exchange for her keeping a low profile.
In fact, that is exactly what Yingluck has done since she was last seen publicly in August last year. Nobody, even people in her Pheu Thai Party, could confirm which country she was in.
There have only been a few photos of Yingluck taken in London and released during the recent Christmas holiday on social media – but Pheu Thai sources said they did not think the photos were intended by Yingluck to make waves. They said if that had been her intention she would have done better to have included many of her supporters in the photos, not just one admirer. Yingluck applied for political asylum in the UK in November but she has not been granted the status, according to a Pheu Thai source.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said yesterday that he had only just learned from the media about the latest developments.
Prawit said he had not yet received any report from the security agencies about it but he added that police and the Foreign Affairs Ministry were still trying verifying the latest reports. He also said that the ex-PM’s latest developments had not created any political problems.