A supporter holds a photograph of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra after she failed to appear to hear the ruling at the Supreme Court on Friday. (EPA photo)
The curtain has closed on the Shinawatra clan’s grip on Thai politics after former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra followed in the footsteps of her fugitive brother Thaksin on Friday by fleeing a Supreme Court ruling for foreign shores, political analysts say.
The future of the Pheu Thai Party has also been cast in doubt by Ms Yingluck’s decision not to appear, according to local pundits.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha appeared to be as shocked by her sudden departure as the rest of the country.
“I thought she would be brave enough to show up [at the court]”, he said.
“I’ve told the security authorities to find out if she is really ill, and where she is,” he said, adding that border crossings were being checked as part of an ongoing manhunt.
“She always said she would hear the ruling. But in the end she didn’t show.”
Sources close to the government and the Shinawatra family told the Bangkok Post she flew to Trat before travelling to Cambodia on Wednesday using a regular land crossing, where she received help from persons of influence in the capital Phnom Penh to arrange foreign visas or passports.
She then took her private jet to Singapore before departing for Dubai to rendezvous with her older brother Thaksin, now living in exile after being ousted in the 2006 coup, they said.
Some observers dropped a bigger bombshell by claiming the regime was complicit in her decision to bolt and escape a potential 10-year jail sentence for dereliction of duty over her administration’s rice-pledging scheme.
Critics say the scheme cost the government over 500 billion baht in losses.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who oversees security affairs, denied rumours that security forces had intentionally let her escape, but conceded she had probably left the country — and may have had help in doing so.
“She is a former prime minister so some officials may have lent her a helping hand,” Gen Prawit said.
Reports claiming she travelled to Trat and crossed a checkpoint into Cambodia have not been verified, he said.
The Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions issued an arrest warrant for Ms Yingluck on Friday.
Her lawyer claimed she could not attend the hearing due to Meniere’s disease — a complication of the inner ear known to cause dizzy spells and migraines — but he failed to present a medical certificate.
As thousands of supporters gathered near the court in Laksi district, the judges said they were not convinced by Ms Yingluck’s claim of ill health.
The court also ordered the seizure of her 30-million-baht bail bond and postponed its reading of the judgement until Sept 27.
Court of Justice spokesman Suebpong Sripongkul said the court would read the ruling in absentia if Ms Yingluck fails to show up again.
“If she is arrested there is a high chance bail would not be granted as she has shown her intention to flee,” he said.
The sources said she slipped out of the country midweek. Even former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, who was sentenced yesterday to 42 years in jail for his role in bogus government-to-government rices sales, was apparently unaware of her plan.
Ms Yingluck is believed to have fled as speculation mounted she would receive a sentence of eight to 10 years — the maximum term for dereliction of duty in such a case.
The severity of the sentence would have made it difficult for her to be granted bail and proceed with an appeal, the sources said.
As the charter stipulates no statute of limitation on her case, analysts said she may have to spend the rest of her life on the run unless a royal pardon is forthcoming.
Her departure has been taken as a sign the political journey of the Shinawatra clan has come to end.
Many supporters expressed disappointment at her shock exit.
“We believed Ms Yingluck would fight the case until the very end. We feel like we’ve been duped,” one of her supporters said.
Jom Petchpradab, a media anchor for the red-shirt group, posted a public message to Ms Yingluck on his Facebook account. It read: “Didn’t you tell you are a democratic warrior who was ready to die on the battlefield? Did you trick me?”
Some supporters believe a guilty verdict followed by jail time would have set the scene for her future return to politics on an even stronger moral footing. That is now impossible, they say.
While commanding figures such as veteran politician Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan could take the party’s helm temporarily, their leadership would not be tenable in the longer term due to public mistrust, the sources said.
Ms Yingluck’s disappearance also reflects badly on the National Council for Peace and Order, which is taking flak for lax security.
The Shinawatra clan has produced three prime ministers in the last 16 years including Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law. He was later banned from politics for five years.