03/08/2019, 13.28
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Thailand rice farmers to decide coming election

Rice farmers oppose military junta’s new rice bill. The 24 March election will mark the country’s return to democratic politics. Support for the rural north-east was fundamental to the Shinawatra family’s electoral success. The Constitutional Court disbands the Thai Raksa Chart Party for putting forward a royal princess as candidate.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Rice farmers are at the centre of Thai politics once again.

As a result of their opposition, the government has indefinitely postponed a controversial bill. Farmers are in fact one of the most influential groups in the country.

The next general elections is set for 24 March, the first since 2011, marking the country’s return to a democratic regime, almost five years after the military seized power.

The Thai Raksa Chart Party will not take part in the elections though. The Constitutional Court ordered its dissolution after it dragged the monarchy into politics by presenting the king's sister as a candidate.

The party was loyal to the still influential Shinawatra family, which dominated Thai politics for years.

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was overthrown by the military in 2014; three years later, the Supreme Court sentenced her in absentia to five years of imprisonment for "negligence" in a controversial scheme to subsidise rice production.

Despite the court decision, she has always maintained her innocence, claiming to be the victim of the ruling junta's attempt to prevent her family from returning to power.

Her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, is also a former prime minister who was overthrown by a coup in 2006 and sentenced (in absentia) to two years in prison for offences related to conflict of interests.

Support for the rural northeast of Thailand was a key part of the Shinawatras’ electoral success, based largely on subsidies to rice farmers.

A rice bill proposed by the junta would have established a government-controlled board to oversee the industry, granting the state sole authority to license certain strains of rice seeds for sale.

The bill passed the first reading in the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) in January but was postponed last week due to growing opposition from rice farmers who claim it would exclusively benefit large-scale producers by banning the distribution of rice seeds not approved by the proposed new board. The bill will be reconsidered after the elections on 24 March.

According to some analysts, dissatisfaction with the bill can hurt incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who will run in March as the candidate for the pro-military Palang Pracharat party. A former commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai army, Prayuth led the military coup of May 2014.

The latest controversy over rice policy could provide an opportunity for the main opposition, Thai Pheu Party, founded by Thaksin Shinawatra.

It is not yet clear however, what impact yesterday’s dissolution of its ally, the Thai Raksa Chart Party, by the Constitutional Court will have.

The Election Commission had asked the court to dissolve the party after it named Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi as its candidate for the prime minister position, claiming that the candidacy went against the constitutional monarchy.

The court ruling includes a ban on the members of the Thai Raksa Chart Party executive council from political activities for ten years. On social media, the princess described the verdict as "sad and depressing".

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