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Yingluck verdict to dictate Thailand's political future

Bangkok (dpa) – Thousands of people are expected to travel from all over Thailand to show their support for former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who will hear the verdict in her 18-month trial over a controversial rice subsidy programme on August 25.

Thailand's first and only female prime minister, Yingluck was toppled in a May 2014 military coup.

She was subsequently charged with criminal negligence for allegedly causing the country losses of between 4 and 17 billion dollars for her administration's flagship rice subsidy scheme, which offered farmers prices twice as high as market prices.

Yingluck and her supporters have denied the losses and say the charge is politically motivated.

Despite her court case and a junta-imposed five-year ban from politics, Yingluck remains popular among the working-class population and a majority of farmers in north and north-eastern Thailand.

Several rice farmers told dpa her rice policy was better than those of other administrations.

"You can ask any rice farmers, and they will all give you the same answer, that her policy was the best," said Adisorn Charoenying, a farmer in the north-eastern province of Buriram.

"I don't know much about her other policies and those corruption allegations. All I know is that farmers' livelihood was the best during her time. Rice prices were as high as 19 baht (57 cents) a kilogram," he added.

As the verdict nears, Thailand's political situation has become increasingly tense for the first time since the military wrested power from Yingluck three years ago.

The verdict will dictate not only Yingluck's fate, which can land her up to 10 years in prison and disqualify her from becoming a prime minister again, but also the future of Thai politics.

Winning an election as an inexperienced newcomer in 2011, Yingluck was considered by some to be merely a puppet of her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and has remained in self-imposed exile to evade a corruption charge.

Much of her support extended from Thaksin's popularity and massive political base, a network the military has spent years attempting to suppress, political analysts said.

"The junta has to keep the Shinawatras down and out because they could come back for retribution," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

"The generals would also be mindful that if given a chance, the Shinawatras can win an election again, just as they have done in the past 17 years," Thitinan added.

Central to the Shinawatras popularity among the working class are populist policies implemented by both Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party and Yingluck's Pheu Thai Party, and a sense of importance after being neglected by previous administrations.

"Pheu Thai Party gave us everything - nice roads, a booming economy, the 30-baht health subsidy," said Supang Khunthum, a shopkeeper in the north-eastern province of Udon Thani.

"But the junta is treating us like slaves. They look down on us, the poor. They will just imprison us for whatever we say," Supang added, referring to the junta's ongoing clampdown on dissent.

With thousands expected to gather for Yingluck's verdict next week, some of her supporters have vowed to fight on, or even to protest the verdict in the streets if she is found guilty.

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