Ms. Yingluck has the right to appeal the verdict within 30 days, but she must be physically present in court to do so. Her whereabouts is unknown.
Ms. Yingluck became Thailand’s first female prime minister in 2011, having had no prior experience in politics. She was widely considered a proxy for her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a controversial but popular former telecommunications tycoon who served as prime minister for five years before he was ousted in a coup in 2006. Mr. Thaksin was later convicted in absentia on conflict of interest charges, after having fled the country himself.
Since 2001, every nationwide election in Thailand has resulted in victories for Mr. Thaksin or political forces loyal to him. But judicial actions and a pair of army coups have unseated each of these governments.
Credit Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Mr. Thaksin’s sister was removed from office in May 2014, after the Constitutional Court found her guilty of abuse of power. The same month, the army orchestrated its latest coup, one of a dozen successful putsches carried out since Thailand abandoned absolute monarchy in 1932.
Thailand’s politics are cleaved, roughly, between the rural poor, who have supported the populist policies of politicians aligned with Mr. Thaksin’s family, and a traditional ruling class that has dismissed the Shinawatra clan as corrupt, power-hungry and dangerously divisive.
A security crackdown on street protests by Mr. Thaksin’s supporters in 2010 resulted in more than 90 deaths in downtown Bangkok.
Since then, Thailand has experienced periods of martial law, and its economic growth has trailed that of other Southeast Asian nations. The country’s current Constitution, drafted under the oversight of a junta that calls itself the National Council for Peace and Order, curtails democratic institutions. It stipulates that the upper house of Thailand’s Parliament, for instance, is appointed, rather than elected.
The junta, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, has promised elections next year. But with Ms. Yingluck and her brother in self-imposed exile, and many in the top echelons of Pheu Thai sidelined by various legal rulings, it is unclear how effectively the party’s supporters will be able to campaign.
Last month, a former commerce minister who served in Ms. Yingluck’s cabinet was sentenced to 42 years in prison in connection with the rice program.
Local news media have speculated that Ms. Yingluck may be in London or Dubai, where her brother has a home. Her lawyers have said they do not know where she is; one recently said he had not heard from her since she fled the country.
At the courthouse on Wednesday, some of Ms. Yingluck’s supporters sounded philosophical about both the verdict and the exile of the Shinawatra siblings.
“Maybe it is good that they both aren’t here, because now the other side can stop saying we are Shinawatra slaves,” said Rungrawee Chaloenpol, a market vendor, breaking down in tears. “Now we can fight for true democracy without having the Shinawatra name attached to us.”
Source: New York Times