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Thai PM under Fire as Rice Scheme Sinks, Poll Challenged

Thai PM under Fire as Rice Scheme Sinks, Poll

Bangkok – Pressure on Thailand’s embattled government mounted on Tuesday, when a flagship rice-buying scheme vital to its support stumbled closer to collapse and the opposition filed legal challenges that could void a disrupted weekend election. The crisis in the rice scheme is a humiliating blow for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra – it helped sweep her to power in 2011, but has become mired in allegations of corruption and growing losses that are making it increasingly hard to fund.

The commerce minister said China had canceled an order for 1.2 million tonnes of rice due to a corruption probe, while state-run Krung Thai Bank (KTB) joined other lenders in saying it would not provide loans urgently needed to rescue it. Protesters succeeded in disrupted voting in a fifth of constituencies in Sunday’s election. The incomplete poll means Yingluck could head a caretaker administration for months, unable to make policy decisions, while demonstrators continue to block parts of the capital as they have been since November.

The opposition Democrat Party boycotted the election and on Tuesday filed challenges to its legality. It is also trying to get Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party disbanded for holding the vote under abnormal circumstances, with Bangkok under a state of emergency. “We will argue that the election violated the constitution,” spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said. “In a separate petition, we will file for the dissolution of Puea Thai Party.”

The Democrat’s last spell in power, between 2008 and 2011, came after the courts banned a previous ruling party loyal to Yingluck’s elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. The rice program was one of the populist policies pioneered by Thaksin, a former prime minister central to a stubborn conflict that has divided Thais for at least eight years. He was toppled by the military in 2006. (Reuters)

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