Any country approached would have to consider possible harm to Thai law and to diplomatic relations
Like her older brother before her, Yingluck Shinawatra could
easily provoke an international diplomatic storm if or when she seeks asylum abroad on grounds of perceived political persecution. The Thai Supreme Court’s decision to sentence her in absentia to five years in jail is already controversial, but that will be nothing compared to the likely debate over any attempt she makes to seek residency in exile
Despite broad support in the West, Thaksin Shinawatra – like Yingluck an elected prime minister overthrown in a military coup – has never been permitted to settle into exile in a Western country. He’s had to be content living in Dubai, where his fate has little if any effect on bilateral relations with Thailand. It remains to be seen whether bilateral ties and the respective nations’ laws will play a role if Yingluck requests asylum, but clearly the two cases are different.
Thaksin was convicted for allowing his then-wife to buy land from his government, a transaction overtly prohibited by the Constitution. That meant countries considering granting him asylum had to weigh Thai law and Thai sovereignty. Yingluck was convicted of violating the law too, but the Supreme Court lacked a precedent for its verdict against her, so it’s more open to debate than Thaksin’s.
The Yingluck judgement came after Boonsong Teriyapirom, her Commerce minister, was sentenced to prison for a staggering 42 years for corruption. He had falsified
documents to claim that rice the government bought from farmers was resold to the Chinese state. In fact, the court found, it was resold to private Chinese dealers with
suspicious local connections. Although Yingluck was not directly implicated in the scam, she was held accountable for allowing her
government’s rice scheme to be
corrupted, and that was what was unprecedented about the verdict.
If she seeks asylum overseas, she will repeat the main points of defence made during the trial. She will insist the rice scheme was a campaign promise that had to be honoured, it benefited the poor, she had initiated measures to guard against corruption, and the investigation was politically motivated. There turned out to be graft at the implementation level, she will say, but she should not be blamed for that.
The counter-argument would be that the court ruled against corruption among the scheme’s administrators, not against the scheme itself, and that Yingluck’s measures were inadequate. It will be said that rice sales to the Chinese government were faked and that Yingluck, ultimately in charge of the scheme, had to be punished as a warning to others involved in graft. The judges apparently concluded that the fake government-to-government sale was too big for Yingluck not to have known something was amiss.
To the legalities that would arise if Yingluck seeks asylum must be added diplomatic and other considerations. The coup that brought down her government has to be a factor, of course, but those assessing her appeal might also ponder whether Thai elected officials are actually able to fight corruption or whether it is so deeply entrenched in Thai democracy that all such efforts are doomed.
If Yingluck goes for asylum, the resulting row could affect the future course of Thailand and its foreign relations. The onus, however, will not be on the country from which Yingluck escaped, but on the one where she wants to live.