January 9, 2014 11:26 am

Thai institutions target Yingluck government

Anti-government protesters wait near Bhudhayodfah bridge during a warm-up rally to paralyze the capital Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in Bangkok, Thailand. Thousands of protesters took part in the rally aimed at toppling the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Protest leaders have set Jan. 13 as the date to bring Bangkok to a halt©AP

Thailand’s embattled ruling party is fighting an assault from courts and regulators that critics see as a fresh front in a mounting opposition campaign to derail elections and parliamentary rule.

Judges, anti-corruption investigators and official auditors have launched a barrage of attacks against the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra, prime minister, prompting speculation of a possible repeat of a 2008 “administrative coup” that ousted a previous government.

Analysts say the sudden burst of condemnation from supposedly independent official institutions underscores establishment hostility to the Yingluck government – and could be a means used to overthrow it if an opposition shutdown of Bangkok, planned from Monday, fails to do so.

“It’s difficult to avoid a sense of déjà vu,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “The decisive direction of this may be determined by agencies that ostensibly promote accountability.”

The auditor-general’s office has written to the national election commission alleging that a poll due on February 2 – which is to be boycotted by the opposition – could be a waste of money, Thai media reported on Thursday. The election commission itself had earlier urged the government to delay polls because of the risk of violence.

The auditor-general’s intervention comes after the national anti-corruption commission said this week it would press charges against 308 current and former MPs – most of them from Ms Yingluck’s Puea Thai party – who tried last year to change the constitution to make the Senate a fully elected chamber. Then on Wednesday, a constitutional court judge launched an attack on a government proposal to build a high-speed rail link, saying it shouldn’t go ahead until roads had been upgraded.

While the institutions all say they are independent, analysts said their decisions appeared to stray clearly into politics. Even some moderate opposition figures appeared mildly embarrassed by the constitutional court’s intervention on the rail plan. The team of Korn Chatikavanij, a former finance minister and senior member of the main opposition Democrats, tweeted that “judges should not be making calls based on their opinion of policy”, although it also said there were sufficient legal grounds to criticise the government.

Even relatively innocuous-looking judicial and regulatory attacks could have serious consequences for the Yingluck government, in a country where the courts removed a prime minister in 2008 on the grounds that he had received payments for a television cookery show he had presented before taking office. The judiciary also dissolved parties aligned with Ms Yingluck and her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, banning senior officials for five years.

Puangthong Pawakapan, a political science specialist at Chulalongkorn University, described the flurry of official rulings as “ridiculous” and accused the institutions concerned of “overstepping their authority”.

“Their verdicts delegitimise the Yingluck government, so they are providing grounds for the protesters,” she said.

The machinations are part of a long-running power struggle between the establishment elite and its allies and the self-exiled Mr Thaksin, whose supporters have swept every election since 2001 through their appeal in Thailand’s vast and historically poor rural north. While the opposition accuses Mr Thaksin of corruption, human rights abuses and vote-buying, his backers say the protesters are trying to destroy democracy because they know they would lose any fair election.

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