Thailand's anti-corruption agency may decide on Thursday whether to pursue charges against ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that could see her banned from politics, ending any hopes she may have of staging an electoral comeback.
Yingluck was thrown out of office on Wednesday by the Constitutional Court for abuse of power, the latest twist in a nearly decade-long struggle for power between Thailand's royalist establishment and Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) was meeting on Thursday to consider a separate case of negligence against Yingluck over a rice subsidy scheme that incurred billions of dollars in losses.
"Today, the NACC will decide whether former premier Yingluck is guilty or not in the rice case and how to proceed with the case," said an official at the NACC, who declined to be identified as she was not authorised to speak to the media.
Yingluck's removal came after six months of sometimes deadly protests in the capital, Bangkok, aimed at toppling her government and ending elder brother Thaksin's influence.
Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon who has won the unswerving loyalty of legions of Thailand's rural and urban poor, lives in exile to avoid a 2008 jail sentence for abuse of power, but he looms over politics.
The Constitutional Court, which removed two previous pro-Thaksin prime ministers in 2008, ruled that Yingluck and nine of her cabinet ministers had abused their power in 2011 over the transfer of a security agency chief.
However, the court left the Shinawatras' ruling party in charge of a caretaker administration intent on organising a July 20 general election, which Yingluck and the party would be likely to win.
Yingluck said on Wednesday she had yet to decide on her future, but a return to power via the ballot box could be blocked if the NACC case also goes against her.
Had Yingluck been prime minister, the commission could have forwarded the case to the upper house Senate to consider impeachment and a political ban, the official said. Now it might recommend criminal proceedings which could also result in a ban.
"NO POWER VACUUM"
Activists from both the pro- and anti-government sides are planning big rallies in Bangkok over coming days, raising fears of clashes. Twenty-five people have been killed and hundreds wounded since the protests began in November.
"This is the first time both sides will protest near each other and each have hardcore elements, which is extremely worrying," said political analyst Kan