Bangkok – Thailand’s ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has fled Thailand, a senior party source said, after she skipped a court appearance that could have seen her jailed, prompting the Supreme Court to issue a warrant for her arrest.
Thousands of supporters – outnumbered by security forces – waited from dawn for a glimpse of the ousted leader, but she did not show.
A senior party source said “she is definitely no longer here, she is likely in Singapore now”.
Yingluck joins her billionaire brother Thaksin in self-exile – a knock-out blow to the family and their political ambitions.
Thailand is deeply divided between the Shinawatras and their political base, which is mainly drawn from the rural poor; and a royalist army-aligned elite, who loathe the clan and refuse to cede power to democratic governments.
Yingluck’s government was removed by a military coup in 2014.
In a day of high drama, Yingluck ducked her court hearing for negligence over a flagship rice subsidy policy, which carried up to 10 years in prison and a life ban from politics.
“Her lawyer said she is sick and asked to delay the ruling … the court does not believe she is sick… and has decided to issue an arrest warrant, fearing she may flee the country,” lead judge Cheep Chulamon told the court, rescheduling the verdict to Sept 27.
A minister in her government was jailed hours later for 42 years in a separate trial for corruption linked to the policy.
Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-Ocha denied knowledge of her whereabouts but ordered border checkpoints “to be stepped up”.
Requesting anonymity, a senior source in the Shinawatras’ Pheu Thai party said that she left Thailand on Wednesday, adding “it’s impossible she left without the military green light”.
Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who is also a former premier, fled Thailand in 2008 before he was convicted of graft and handed a two-year jail term.
The telecoms tycoon, who once owned Manchester City football club, has not returned since and his Thai passport has been revoked.
He is believed to be using a Montenegrin passport to travel between homes in Dubai, London, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Thaksin remains a galvanising force for his party and a canny political operator.
But analysts say if both siblings are now in exile their time in Thailand’s spin dryer political arena is over.
“With two family members as fugitives, the family loses political legitimacy,” said Puangthong Pawakpan, a Thai politics expert at Chulalongkorn University, adding that Yingluck’s departure would be welcomed by a Thai junta weary of the prospect of her political martyrdom in jail. — AFP