(CTN NEWS) – Former Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, stepped into incarceration on Tuesday, commencing an 8-year prison term shortly after reentering the country following a prolonged period of self-imposed exile.
The polarizing ex-leader’s return coincided with a pivotal vote for a political party associated with him, as it navigates its way towards establishing a new government.
Thaksin himself has asserted that his decision to come back is unrelated to the Pheu Thai party’s quest for authority. Nonetheless, there is widespread belief that the party may have brokered agreements with pro-military factions to facilitate the return of the 74-year-old billionaire.
The Pheu Thai party is the most recent addition to a series of political entities established by Thaksin or his associates. Two of these groups were ousted from power by military coups, resulting in extensive periods of turmoil and schism.
This schism involved pitting a largely impoverished, rural pro-Thaksin majority in the northern regions against royalists, the military, and their supporters in urban areas.
Thaksin Shinawatra’s Homecoming: A Warm Welcome and Legal Proceedings Unfold
Around 9 a.m. local time in Bangkok, Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand, touched down in his private jet, receiving a warm welcome from family and supporters.
After emerging from the airport, Thaksin paid his respects by laying a wreath of flowers and prostrating before a portrait of Thailand’s king and queen. While he briefly acknowledged supporters and the media outside the terminal, he refrained from speaking.
Hundreds of his devotees had congregated outside the airport well in advance of his arrival, clad in the symbolic red attire associated with Thaksin.
They held signs with messages of welcome and expressed their loyalty through songs and chants. Their excitement reached a crescendo when Thaksin appeared at the entrance, triggering exuberant cheers.
Makawan Payakkae, a 43-year-old from Maha Sarakham province, shared his emotional response to the occasion, stating, “I feel fulfilled that I traveled here today to pick him up. If possible I want to hug him. Everyone has tears, tears coming out of their eyes.”
Decades ago, Thaksin championed populist policies and utilized his telecommunications wealth to establish the Thai Rak Thai party, which propelled him to the prime minister’s office in 2001. He was reelected with ease in 2005 but was eventually deposed in a military coup in 2006.
Subsequently, he fled into exile. Thaksin faced corruption charges in absentia, which he dismissed as politically motivated, resulting in an eight-year prison sentence.
Following his arrival, Thaksin’s motorcade proceeded to the Supreme Court, where a specialized body overseeing cases involving former officials confirmed the sentence. He then made his way to Bangkok’s primary correctional facility.
Thaksin’s Health Assessment and Prison Arrangements Revealed by Bangkok Remand Prison Authorities
Authorities from the Bangkok Remand Prison reported in a press conference that after undergoing a medical assessment, Thaksin was classified as “vulnerable” due to his age and preexisting heart and lung conditions, including hypertension.
Consequently, he will undergo a minimum 10-day quarantine as a new inmate. Currently housed in the prison’s medical wing, he will be subject to constant supervision due to safety and health considerations.
Thaksin’s daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, a prominent figure in the Pheu Thai party, posted family photos featuring Thaksin at the center on Facebook. She expressed gratitude to those who greeted her father at the airport, stating, “Me and my family are very grateful.”
Less than a week before May elections, Thaksin had initially expressed his desire to return prior to his birthday in July. However, this plan encountered repeated delays, attributed to post-election uncertainties and health concerns voiced by Thaksin and Paetongtarn.
Although the Move Forward Party, a progressive group, emerged as a surprise winner in the elections, it faced rejection from conservative senators appointed by the previous military administration.
As a result, the Pheu Thai party, despite securing second place in the elections, assumed leadership in forming a new government by uniting an 11-party coalition, including two factions aligned with former military opponents.
Collectively, they held 314 out of 500 seats in the House of Representatives.
To secure a majority in the combined parliamentary vote, Pheu Thai’s candidate, former property developer Srettha Thavisin, required support from the unelected Senate, appointed by the former military government.
In line with the military-implemented constitution, both parliamentary houses cast their votes jointly for the prime minister, a safeguard aimed at preserving conservative military-backed rule.
Senators as Guardians of Traditional Values: Preserving Conservative Royalist Ideals
Senators, akin to the military, consider themselves custodians of traditional conservative royalist values.
Parliament convened on Tuesday, with House Speaker Wan Muhammad Noor Matha allocating time for lawmakers to deliberate on the nomination before the afternoon vote.
Notably, Srettha, who didn’t run for office, wasn’t obliged to be present during the vote, as per parliamentary regulations.
Pheu Thai encountered criticism from segments of its supporters for revising its pre-election pledge not to collaborate with pro-military parties.
Party officials defended this shift, citing the necessity to break a political impasse and pursue reconciliation after years of profound political divisions.
Thaksin was ousted during his overseas stay in 2006. He briefly returned to Thailand in 2008 for a court trial before once again leaving the country.
His hesitance to return stemmed from concerns about equitable treatment under the military-backed government and establishment, which had harbored deep antipathy toward him.
Despite his absence, Thaksin remained involved in Thai politics, often addressing his supporters and affiliated parties through video calls.
Napon Jatusripitak, a political science researcher and visiting fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, observed, “Thaksin’s plans to return to Thailand were postponed after the election results were announced — this implies a strong connection between the election, formation of coalitions.
And selection of the prime minister on one hand, and Thaksin’s personal agenda on the other… Thaksin has managed to make this election about himself personally, and the direction of a Pheu Thai-led coalition heavily depends on his personal whims.”
Thaksin’s fate could see him serve his entire sentence unless he secures a royal pardon.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam of the outgoing military-linked government noted that Thaksin was eligible to seek a pardon, potentially receiving special consideration due to his age.
Napon suggested that Thaksin’s present decision to return indicates that “he has received assurances that he will not have to serve a prison sentence in full.”
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