26 December 2023

Yingluck Shinawatra ‘not guilty’

Democracy Monument

Today, Thailand’s Supreme Court dismissed a criminal case against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The verdict of not guilty was unexpected, given the numerous legal and extra-constitutional penalties issued against Yingluck over the past decade. (Her government was deposed in a coup, and she was fined, impeached, and convicted of dereliction of duty.)

Today’s verdict relates to Yingluck’s removal of Thawil Pliensri as head of the National Security Council in 2011, shortly after she became PM. Thawil was replaced by the chief of police, and Priewpan Damapong became the new police chief. Priewpan is a brother-in-law of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, and Yingluck was accused of sacking Thawil for nepotistic reasons, to create a vacancy for Priewpan.

Thawil alleged that his demotion “involves acts of the prime minister that are unconstitutional”. Article 266 of the 2007 constitution prohibited “the recruitment, appointment, reshuffle, transfer... of a Government official” if such action was performed “for personal benefits or for the benefits of others or of a political party”.

The Central Administrative Court and the Supreme Administrative Court both ruled that Thawil’s transfer was a violation of the constitution, and their judgement was upheld by the Constitutional Court in 2014. The Constitutional Court’s guilty verdict resulted in Yingluck’s dismissal as PM, which created a power vacuum filled by the military junta.

Despite its highly consequential guilty verdict, the Constitutional Court’s judgement was rather nuanced. The court ruled that, although Yingluck had not acted “in accordance with moral principles”, she was legally authorised to transfer Thawil. This distinction ultimately paved the way for today’s verdict of not guilty from the Supreme Court.

The National Anti-Corruption Council recommended criminal charges against Yingluck in relation to the Thawil case in 2020. By that point, Yingluck was already living in self-imposed exile, after fleeing the country in 2017. Thaksin also fled into exile, though he returned to Thailand this year following a quid pro quo arrangement with the military, and it’s possible that today’s acquittal of Yingluck is another phase of Thaksin’s deal.