Thailand's former Prime Minister has defended her role in a controversial rice subsidy scheme, as she faced impeachment hearings that could see her banned from politics for five years and reignite the country's bitter divisions.

Yingluck Shinawatra said on Friday that she tried to find ways of helping poor farmers as she appeared before a military-appointed legislature relating to the scheme that forced protests against her now toppled government.

"I ran the government with honesty and in accordance with all laws," she said, rejecting the allegation of dereliction of duty by the nation's anti-corruption body that resulted in the impeachment bid.

The former prime minister told the National Assembly, the scheme helped poor farmers and alleviated poverty, helping some 1.8 million people.

The final Thai ouster

Critics say the rice subsidy run up losses up to $15bn, and resulted in huge stockpiles with buyers baulking at Yingluck's attempt to hoard the grain and force up prices.

Yingluck said the proceedings were futile as she no longer held any political post.

"I was removed from my position as prime minister. I have no position left to be removed from," Yingluck told the assembly.

She ended a detailed and impassioned defence by urging the assembly to "deliberate with virtue, without prejudice or a hidden political agenda".

A successful impeachment needs three-fifths of the 250-strong assembly to vote in favour. A verdict is expected by the end of January.

Criminal case

Prosecutors are also in the process of deciding whether Yingluck should face a separate criminal case over the rice subsidy scheme.

Thailand's first female prime minister and sister of self-exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck was ousted from office by a controversial court ruling shortly before the army seized power in a coup on May 22, 2014.

Yingluck's supporters say the proceedings and the criminal charges are the latest attempt by the royalist elite to neuter the political influence of the Shinawatras, whose parties have won every election since 2001.

If impeached, Yingluck faces a five-year ban from politics.

But the move is not without risks. A vote to impeach Yingluck could galvanise her family's 'Red Shirt' supporters to protest, ending months of silence since the army grabbed power and imposed martial law.

Protests are banned under martial law.

Yingluck's billionaire brother Thaksin, who was deposed as prime minister in a 2006 coup, is loathed by the Bangkok-centred establishment, and its supporters, known as 'Yellow Shirts'.

Since Thaksin swept to power in 2001, Shinawatra governments have been floored by two coups and bloodied by the removal of three other prime ministers by the kingdom's interventionist courts.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies