Country Risk

Tepid response to former Thai PM’s sentencing indicates falling risk of violent protests in central Bangkok

02 October 2017

Key Points

  • The tepid reaction to the sentencing of the iconic Pheu Thai/“Red Shirt” leader is a milestone in the Red Shirt-Yellow Shirt rivalry that has characterised Thai politics for over a decade.
  • The risk of violent protests around government buildings and commercial property in central Bangkok is currently likely to fall quickly.
  • Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s authority faces no practical challenges, but a call by the new king for an election in 2018 will commit the military government to them.


Only 100 supporters attended the Supreme Court’s sentencing of the former Thai prime minister and Pheu Thai Party scion, Yingluck Shinawatra.Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha after a meeting with Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/Staff/Getty Images)Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha after a meeting with Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/Staff/Getty Images)

Thailand’s Supreme Court on 27 September sentenced former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to five years in prison for dishonest dereliction of duty (negligence) in her supervision over a rice-subsidy scheme that the current military government claims led to fiscal losses of at least USD8 billion. Chinese state-owned enterprises were implicated in the government-to-government sales of rice at the heart of the case, but Thai authorities are not pursuing legal action against them. Yingluck was sentenced in absentia under the terms of an arrest warrant issued when she almost certainly fled the country on 25 August, probably with the tacit approval of the military government. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha stated on 28 September that Yingluck is in Dubai and that her Thai passport was to be revoked. Her five-year sentence was only half of the possible 10 years received by her then-commerce minister and his deputy on 25 August but is accompanied by a lifetime ban from political office in Thailand.


About 100 policemen secured the high court area in Phra Nakhon district, and additional security had been deployed across central Bangkok in anticipation of protests in support of Yingluck. However, only about 100 supporters accompanied the former prime minister’s lawyers at the ruling, compared with more than 3,000 on 25 August – a strong indication of the loss of Yingluck’s political capital after her fleeing and of supporters’ acceptance of the Supreme Court’s authority.

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