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Hundreds of fans mobbed ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra as she arrived at court on Firday, to give evidence at her negligence trial, where she implored supporters to vote on a contentious referendum this weekend.
Yingluck, Thailand’s first female premier, was dumped from office by a court days before army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha seized power in May 2014.
She was retroactively impeached over a financially ruinous rice subsidy scheme that funnelled cash to her farming base, and is facing a trial which could see her jailed for up to ten years.
The rice scheme was a major catalyst in the debilitating protests that presaged the military takeover.
In a sign of her enduring star power among supporters, Yingluck was met by several hundred people outside the court.
In a frenzied atmosphere, many supporters handed her red roses — a nod to the colour of their grassroots movement.
She repeated her plea of innocence of the negligence charge to the crowd, adding the billions of dollars of losses occurred after she was booted from office.
Yingluck also urged Thais to vote on Sunday’s referendum over a new military-scripted constitution, the first test of public opinion on the military’s handling of the country since its power grab.
“I want to invite all Thais to go for the vote,” she said.
“I don’t want small turnout otherwise the result won’t be what we want if we want to see democracy have a future,” she furhter said.
Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party has expressed fears of a low turnout on Sunday — with many among their rural support base unsure of how the new charter affects them.
Campaigning against the document has also been banned and many in the country have not seen the draft they are expected to vote on.
A low turnout is likely to favour the military, which says the document will bring long-term stability, rein-in avaricious politicians and prevent any one party from becoming too dominant.
Opponents say it will lead to a straightjacketed democracy, weak coalition governments controlled by an appointed senate and enable courts and other agencies to hamper policy making.
Thailand has been deeply divided since the 2006 ousting of Thaksin Shinawatra by the military.
Shinawatra-led or aligned governments have won every election since 2001, powered to government by the working class and rural poor who laud the clan for recognising their changing aspirations in a deeply hierarchical and economically divided society.