Thailand’s government has returned the Thai passport of the fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and is preparing to welcome him from exile, stoking renewed political tensions in the country.
Mr Thaksin, a divisive figure, missed a self-imposed deadline to be in Bangkok for the wedding of his daughter Pinthongta two weeks ago.
But supporters of the telecommunications tycoon, who has lived in exile since 2008, believe he will be home within months.
From Dubai where he is living, Mr Thaksin insists Thailand is about to enter a period of reconciliation after six years of upheaval, but warns that ”merchants of conflict” will try to thwart the peace efforts.
”Those who are not brutal and not self-centred had better get into the reconciliation mode now,” he told the Bangkok Post.
Powerful forces, including Bangkok’s political and military elite, strongly oppose Mr Thaksin’s return, unless he serves at least part of a two-year prison sentence for alleged corruption.
But MPs in Yingluck Shinawatra’s Puea Thai party are planning amnesties for people on both sides of the country’s bitterly divided politics, a move that government critics say is ostensibly designed to allow her brother back into the country without him having to go to jail.
The government is also planning constitutional amendments that Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, says should protect democratically elected representatives from being forced from power.
Ms Yingluck won a landslide election in July on a promise to her millions of so-called ”red shirt” supporters that she would bring her brother home, and analysts say she will face a backlash from her own supporters if she fails to fulfil the promise.
In November the government was forced to withdraw an endorsement of a royal pardon for Mr Thaksin after leaders of the royalist ”yellow shirt” movement and the opposition vowed to strongly protest against it.
But the Deputy Prime Minister, Chalerm Yoobamrung, a government heavyweight, has confirmed Mr Thaksin will be able to return under a proposed amnesty bill to be passed in parliament, probably in the first half of 2012, even though the bill will be strongly opposed by Mr Thaksin’s many enemies.
Since the election Mr Thaksin has been widely credited with running the government from exile although he says he is just an observer trying to point out problems.
In a tongue-in-cheek end-of-year assessment of the 44-year-old Prime Minister, Thai parliamentary reporters said: ”Yingluck is the bird Thaksin raised in a golden cage and taught to speak repeatedly the message he wants while avoiding talking politics.”
Mr Thaksin admitted he had flown to Burma earlier this month to ”smooth the way” for Ms Yingluck’s official visit just before Christmas, which included talks with the reformist President, Thein Sein, and the democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
In recent months many government coalition MPs have met Mr Thaksin in Cambodia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, including some who are thought to be looking for promotion in a cabinet reshuffle expected early in the new year. Mr Thaksin is believed to be unhappy with the performance of several cabinet ministers, including those who provided Ms Yingluck with incorrect information and advice during the country’s devastating floods.
Ms Yingluck, a political novice, struggled to deal with the bureaucracy and politicians during the crisis which left more than 400 people dead and caused billions of dollars worth of damage.
The Supreme Court sentenced Mr Thaksin for abusing his authority as prime minister to help his former wife buy a state-owned land plot in inner Bangkok in 2003.
He denies the charge, saying it was a political set-up