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Thailand: Former PM Thaksin Shinawatra returns after 15 years of exile

2023 Aug 22, 9:30, Bangkok [Thailand]
Photo Credit - ANI

Thousands of supporters, mostly wearing red clothes, gathered near the private jet terminal at Don Mueang airport to welcome Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Tuesday morning after 15 years in self-exile and around 20 scrapped attempts to come home under a looming prison sentence, Nikkei Asia reported.

They were present together with key figures and MPs of the Pheu Thai Party and an army of local and foreign journalists at the heavily guarded airport.

A private jet carrying Thaksin landed at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok at around 9 am (local time). Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the airport to welcome Thaksin.

"It's time for me to be with the Thai people," he told Nikkei Asia on Tuesday morning at Singapore's Seletar Airport before flying to Thailand.

It would be his first return to the country in 15 years. Authorities planned to take him from the airport to the Supreme Court where he would undergo procedures concerning pending punishment by imprisonment.

According to Nikkei Asia, his return comes hours before a parliamentary vote to elect a new prime minister, with his Pheu Thai party hoping to form a new government after having brokered a coalition.

Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008, shortly before the Supreme Court sentenced him for helping his then-wife, Khunying Potjaman Na Pombejra, buy prime land in the Ratchadaphisek area at a discount while prime minister, Bangkok Post reported.

According to the Bangkok Post, he faces prison sentences of 10 years in three cases in which he was convicted in absentia by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.

According to the Thai Inquirer, former PM Shinawatra will now be transferred to the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions to have his status confirmed as a wanted person and to receive his detention warrant. Thaksin would then be handed over to the Corrections Department and transferred to the Bangkok Remand Prison. Given that he is over 70 years old, he may seek a royal pardon. Additionally, there is a possibility that he might be transferred for detention to the Department of Corrections Hospital, depending on his medical condition.

For more than 20 years, and even in his absence, Thaksin has been a dominant figure in Thai politics. Flush with his telecommunications fortune, he held audiences with influential Thai figures in cities like Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong — his frequent haunts 1 and remained outspoken on social media platforms such as X, formerly known as Twitter, and Clubhouse, Nikkei Asia reported.

Until this year, parties associated with Thaksin had won every election since 2001, when he swept to power with the Thai Rak Thai Party. His sister Yingluck Shinawatra, similarly in self-exile after a five-year prison sentence, was the last Pheu Thai prime minister before the most recent coup in 2014, Nikkei Asia reported.

Upon his return, Thaksin faces a 12-year prison sentence over charges of graft and corruption, a case that saw him convicted in absentia in 2008. But political observers doubt that the 74-year-old will spend any time behind bars. Convicted individuals aged over 70 in Thailand are eligible to request parole or a royal pardon.

The political trades that followed the Thai election on May 14 may turn out to be Thaksin's ultimate deal. Pheu Thai set a goal of more than 300 lower house seats in the election to install a prime minister without being thwarted by the military-appointed Senate. That plan was upset by the progressive Move Forward Party, now considered by voters a more suitable carrier of the pro-democracy mantle than Pheu Thai.

But now, three months after the election, Pheu Thai is in pole position to form a government after leaving the Move Forward camp and aligning itself with parties led by the generals who ousted Yingluck. By Tuesday's end, the party could hold the premiership again if parliament approves its candidate, Nikkei Asia reported.

But after losing reform-minded voters to Move Forward, Thaksin's homecoming could further damage Pheu Thai's democratic credentials in future elections.

Nattawut Saikua, leader of the "Red Shirt" pro-democracy movement, ended his association with Pheu Thai on Monday over its alliance with the military-linked Palang Pracharath and United Thai Nation parties, Nikkei Asia reported.


Bangkok Thailand Don Mueang airport Thaksin Shinawatra Exile
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