BANGKOK, Thailand -- Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose
government was toppled by a military coup in May, faces a possible 10
years in prison after the Supreme Court on Thursday (March 19) ordered
her trial for alleged negligence when she administered rice subsidies.

"I am innocent," Ms. Yingluck said on her Facebook page, hours after
the court's announcement.

The crop subsidies "enhanced the living standards of the rice
farmers," she said.

"The Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political
Positions has authority to consider the case," the court ruled on
Thursday (March 19).

The Attorney General's office had charged her with "dereliction of
duty" for not correcting alleged problems within her government
subsidy program.

Ms. Yingluck's trial, scheduled to start on May 19, is expected to
increase divisions in this troubled and repressed Southeast Asian

She remains popular despite the coup-installed junta's use of martial
law, military courts for civilian dissidents, "attitude adjustment"
re-education at army camps, and other punishments to silence demands
for a return to democracy.

Prosecutors allege Ms. Yingluck's negligence cost the country billions
of dollars in price supports and other fees.

Her supporters said the subsidies cost the government money because
the program was planned as welfare for needy rice farmers.

Much of the rice which the government purchased -- at up to twice the
international market's prices -- is currently piled in warehouses
where its quality is deteriorating due to humidity, mold and insects.

Subsidized rice that the government bought and was able to sell or
trade, did not make a profit.

Ms. Yingluck's opponents said the subsidies suffered from corruption,
theft, mismanagement and deception because she ignored warnings about
such problems.

But no one has ever been convicted of any major crimes, including
corruption, linked to the subsidies.

Nevertheless, allegations of corruption within the subsidy program,
and her negligence, have played a big part in the opposition's
hammering propaganda against Ms. Yingluck during the past year.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission suggested a few months ago
that Ms. Yingluck be forced to pay more than $15 billion for the
subsidies' estimated cost because of her alleged negligence.

Ms. Yingluck and her coalition won a July 2011 election, but a
Constitutional Court ruled on May 7, 2014 that she, as prime minister,
illegally demoted and promoted officials.

When she had to step down because of that court's decision, she handed
the prime ministry to a political ally, who ran her caretaker
government and tried to arrange fresh elections.

Two weeks later, Ms. Yingluck's crippled government was ousted by the
U.S.-trained military on May 22.

More recently, a coup-appointed National Legislative Assembly
retroactively impeached Ms. Yingluck in January, banishing her from
political power for five years.

Her problems echo the financial trials and military attack which
damaged her older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was prime minister
from 2001 until 2006 when the military seized power in a previous

Mr. Thaksin is now an international fugitive dodging a two-year prison
sentence for corruption.

From self-exile, his manipulative influence and popularity enabled him
to thrust his sister into the prime ministry despite Ms. Yingluck's
lack of political experience.

His enemies meanwhile hope to one day investigate Mr. Thaksin's "war
on drugs," which resulted in more than 2,500 unexplained extrajudicial
killings during his administration.

They also hope the May 2014 coup and latest court cases will
eventually destroy the Shinawatra family's authoritarian dynastic
politics which have dominated Thailand during most of the 21st

The Shinawatras boosted several relatives into important police,
military and political posts, but the coup's regime has steadily
eroded the family's sway.

Much of Thailand's often violent political polarization comes from a
cascade of power grabs during the past decade by the royalist military
and its wealthy and middle-class supporters in Bangkok and the south.

They oppose the increasingly strong competition from newly rich
business leaders and allied politicians, such as the Shinawatras, who
enjoy a majority of votes by the rural and urban poor in the north and

U.S. State Department Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and
Pacific Affairs, Daniel Russel, warned the coup leaders in January
about the criminal charges against Ms. Yingluck.

"Although this is being pretty blunt, when an elected leader is
removed from office, is deposed, then impeached by the authorities --
the same authorities that conducted the coup -- and then when a
political leader is targeted with criminal charges at a time when the
basic democratic processes and institutions in the country are
interrupted, the international community is going to be left with the
impression that these steps could in fact be politically driven," Mr.
Russel said in a speech in Bangkok at Chulalongkorn University.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978.