Controversial Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Reemerges from Exile Amid Party’s Efforts to Establish New Government

by Gabriel Martinez
Thaksin Shinawatra

The former Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, a contentious figure, made a return to the country on Tuesday following his self-imposed exile to confront criminal charges. This event coincides with the initiation of government formation by a political party connected to him.

Though Thaksin asserts that his return is unrelated to the expected parliamentary vote later that day on a prime ministerial candidate from the Pheu Thai party, many speculate a connection to the party’s quest for power.

Departing from Singapore in his private jet, Thaksin arrived at Don Mueang International Airport at approximately 9 a.m. local time. Live footage was broadcasted by Thai television channels, showing him leaving the private jet terminal with his daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, a prominent member of Pheu Thai, and acknowledging his supporters.

Upon exiting the terminal, Thaksin showed his respect to Thailand’s king and queen by laying a flower wreath and prostrating before their portraits.

Supporters, dressed in red and holding welcome signs, assembled outside the airport in anticipation of his arrival. Core members of the Pheu Thai party were also present at the location.

Thaksin, a 74-year-old billionaire, has been influential in Thai politics, leveraging his wealth from the telecommunications industry to create the Thai Rak Thai party, serving as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2005, and then being deposed in a military coup in 2006, which led to his exile.

His convictions in absentia in multiple criminal cases could result in imprisonment unless a royal pardon is granted. Thaksin has dismissed the cases as politically driven.

Pheu Thai is the latest in a series of parties associated with Thaksin, whose ousting ignited a prolonged period of unrest and division, creating a rift between his largely rural, poor supporters and the royalists, military, and urban elite.

In an interview prior to his return, Thaksin insisted his decision to come back was unrelated to the parliamentary vote and that he was ready to adhere to the Thai legal process.

His return was initially anticipated before July but faced delays due to post-election uncertainties and health concerns.

Pheu Thai secured the second position in recent elections and assumed a leadership role in government formation after consistent rejection of the unexpected victor, the progressive Move Forward Party, by conservative senators.

Three months passed without a new government, leading to a planned vote on Pheu Thai’s prime ministerial candidate, Srettha Thavisin. An 11-party coalition has been formed, with some criticism from supporters for collaborating with pro-military groups.

Pheu Thai officials justified the decision as a means to overcome political stagnation and foster national reconciliation.

The Pheu Thai-led coalition, holding 314 of 500 seats in the House of Representatives, requires additional support from non-elected Senate, appointed by the former military government, to secure a majority.

Under the military-enforced constitution, both houses of Parliament vote together for the prime minister in an arrangement aiming to preserve conservative military-backed rule.

Thaksin briefly returned in 2008 but fled again, fearing bias from the military-backed government. However, he has remained politically engaged.

His recent return may indicate that he has been assured of leniency regarding potential imprisonment, according to political analyst Napon Jatusripitak.

The situation highlights Thaksin’s personal influence on Thai politics, with the course of the Pheu Thai-led coalition likely to be heavily influenced by his personal desires.

The convictions against Thaksin could lead to over a decade in prison, though it has been suggested that he could request a pardon and receive special consideration due to his age. Napon’s insights suggest that Thaksin’s decision to return now may reflect an assurance that his prison sentence will not be fully enforced.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Thaksin Shinawatra

When did Thaksin Shinawatra return to Thailand?

Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand on Tuesday after years of self-imposed exile, coinciding with the initiation of government formation by a political party connected to him.

Who is Thaksin Shinawatra?

Thaksin Shinawatra is a former Prime Minister of Thailand and a billionaire who promoted populist policies. He was elected prime minister in 2001 and reelected in 2005 before being ousted in a military coup in 2006 and fleeing into exile.

What party is associated with Thaksin Shinawatra?

The Pheu Thai party is the latest in a string of political parties affiliated with Thaksin Shinawatra.

What are the criminal charges against Thaksin Shinawatra?

Thaksin was convicted in absentia in several criminal cases, which he claims were politically motivated. He could face prison time unless he receives a royal pardon.

What is the significance of Thaksin’s return?

Thaksin’s return has ignited speculation that it may be connected to the Pheu Thai party’s efforts to form a new government. Some believe that his personal influence might heavily impact the direction of the Pheu Thai-led coalition.

What is the current political situation in Thailand?

Pheu Thai came in second in recent elections and has taken over leadership in forming a new government. Parliament plans to vote on Pheu Thai’s candidate for prime minister, and the coalition needs some support from the non-elected Senate to achieve a majority.

Why did Thaksin Shinawatra go into exile?

Thaksin went into self-imposed exile after being ousted in a military coup in 2006. He fled the country to avoid what he believed would be unfair treatment by the military-backed government and establishment that has long held animosity toward him.

Could Thaksin Shinawatra face prison time upon his return?

Yes, Thaksin could face more than a decade in prison due to convictions against him in various criminal cases. However, it has been suggested that he could request a pardon and might receive special treatment because of his age.

More about Thaksin Shinawatra

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Timothy L. August 22, 2023 - 8:32 am

Its great to see him back but the legal issues are concerning. I hope there’s a fair trial, but who knows with politics. whats next for thailand, any ideas?

James Carter August 22, 2023 - 12:50 pm

It’s about time he returned, isn’t it? I always thought Thaksin had some unfinished business in Thai politics. What are the chances he’ll actually face prison time, though?

Lucy Redmond August 23, 2023 - 1:28 am

Thaksin’s return surely indicates a change in Thai political scene, or does it? After 17 years of military-backed rule, i’m curious to see what comes of this. His influence has always been divisive, and its seems like thats not changing.

Sarah Mckinnon August 23, 2023 - 1:57 am

This situation is so complicated, don’t really understand all the legalities involved. but glad to see some progress happening. anyone know what the Thai people think of him these days?


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