Last month, former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra fled the country in secret. Last week she was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, in absentia.
The last 12 years in Thailand have been marred by political unrest, including 2 military coups.
At the centre of that volatility is the Shinawatra family, whose influence has towered over Thailand for over a decade.
They’re loved by some, and hated by others. Three members of the family have been elected Prime Minister, only to be toppled from office.
Asia Calling Thailand correspondent Kannikar Petchkaew asks if the family’s influence will live on, despite their absence in from the country.
Mayuri has driven five hours to arrive at Bangkok’s court at dawn.
She holds a box of home made fish curry, and boasts that the so-called “Madam Prime Minister” loves her cooking.
‘Ask her yourself,’ she dares me.
Mayuri is referring to former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was ousted from ousted from office 3 years ago.
Outside the court, we waited for Yingluck to arrive and hear the court decide her future.
We wait and wait. But Yingluck never arrives.
Later we find out she fled the country, the night before the verdict.
Shinawatra supporter, Hansak Benjasripitak, says she was forced to leave.
“The jurisdiction system: the fake witnesses, the destruction of evidence, impartial information taken into account. If I had to be sentenced to jail under these circumstance, I would flee too,” he said.
Yingluck Shinawatra was facing charges of negligence of duty for a bungled rice subsidies scheme that was supposed to support Thai farmers, but that ended in failure.
Found guilty, she was sentenced her to 5 years imprisonment.
But Shinawatra supporters like Hansak claim the charges are politically motivated, an attempt to wipe out the Shinawatra family and their supporters.
“Anyone - not just Shinawatra family members, but all those who are close to them- if anyone were suspected to be in Shinawatra’s shadow, they would be gotten rid of,” he claimed.
Yingluck Shinawatra is the second Prime Minister to flee the country in the last 10 years.
The first was her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Billionaire-turned politician Thaksin Shinawatra brought his family to fame when he contested elections in 2001.
He enjoyed enormous support, especially from the rural poor. His party, Pheu Thai, won elections in a landslide, and Thaksin became the first elected Prime Minister to complete a full term in office.
In 2006, Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup
He fled the country. But his popularity remained strong. Thailand was plunged into a deep divide between those who supported Thaksin and those who wanted to see him gone.
Both sides took to the streets. Violent confrontations dragged the country to the brink of civil war.
Despite political unrest, and Thaksin’s absence, the Shinawatra family thrived.
Thaksin’s brother-in-law, and then his sister were elected Prime Minister. Although they were both removed from office by court rulings.
But even their rivals, like former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, agree that the family’s influence lives on.
“Plus the influence that the family continue to wheel in terms of politicians and also the mass support that it still has, means that they will continue to be a force in Thai politics, we have to be realistic about that,” he commented.
The military junta has been in power for 3 years now. Democratic elections are promised for next year, but no one is holding their breath.
Civil rights and political freedoms have been eroded, and political opponents crushed.
But prominent journalist Thepchai Yong says the situation is far from settled.
“Just the fact that Yingluck has fled the country doesn't mean that it will spell an end to the support the people have for the family, may be on the contrary, the fact that Yingluck is seen as being forced to leave the country, may play into the hands of the Shinawatra family in the sense that it will give the impression that the family members especially Khun Yingluck are being wrongly prosecuted.”
Many still support the Shinawatra family, but under the military junta, the road ahead will not be easy for them.
Shinawatra supporter Hansak tells me he wants to see a reconciliation between the military and Shinawatra supporters. He says that unless these divisions are resolved in a fair process, they will continue to dominate Thai politics.
“If we want real reconciliation and to move on, all facts should be considered, those of the victims and of the perpetrators. If you don't consider the truth from all sides, we will definitely stay stuck,” he said.