Updated: 03/31/2014 05:38 | By Agence France-Presse

Thai PM set to give defence against negligence charges

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is expected Monday to mount her defence against negligence charges linked to a controversial rice subsidy scheme that could presage her removal from office and a ban from politics.

Thai PM set to give defence against negligence charges

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (R) checks her voter lists as she visits a polling station to cast her vote in the senate elections in Bangkok on March 30, 2014 - by Pornchai Kittiwongsakul

Yingluck has been summoned to appear before the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) by Monday after a bid to push back the deadline for her defence was rejected.

She could face an impeachment vote in the upper house of parliament within weeks.

The scheme, which paid farmers above market rates for their crop, has become a lightning rod for anger from her political opponents who have massed on Bangkok's streets for months in a bid to topple her government.

They allege the subsidy scheme punched a hole in Thai finances, battered the country's rice producing industry and fostered massive corruption -- all to shore up Yingluck's rural electoral base.

The NACC filed charges against Yingluck in February, saying she had ignored warnings over the subsidy scheme.

The embattled premier has said she is innocent but if she is found guilty faces an impeachment vote in the upper house and a possible five-year ban from politics, as well as potential imprisonment by the courts on criminal charges.

It was unclear late Sunday if she would contest the charge in person or through her lawyers.

Norrawit Larlaeng, one of her legal team, last week said the premier had not been given enough time to respond to the charge.

"The investigation against her has been rushed and it is unfair as we cannot see the evidence," he said.

Observers say the crisis now appears to be entering a crucial new phase.

Polls for the elected portion of the Senate -- representing a narrow majority of the upper house -- were successfully held Sunday with an estimated 40 percent turnout.  

The rest of the house is appointed by institutions seen as being allied to the anti-government establishment, including the Constitutional Court and Election Commission.

The make-up of the Senate is being closely-watched with the expectation that responsibility for the impeachment of the prime minister could soon fall to its 150 members -- who are officially non-partisan.

Thailand has been bitterly divided since a military coup in 2006 ousted Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician who lives in Dubai to avoid prison for a corruption conviction.

Pro-government "Red Shirts" have vowed to fight any attempt to remove Yingluck from office, saying they will not stomach another elected leader being ousted despite winning a democratic majority.

The Red Shirts' street rallies against the previous government in 2010 resulted in bloody street clashes and a military crackdown that left dozens dead.

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