CHIANGRAI TIMES – Thailand’s politics heated up Wednesday over a bill that could herald the return of divisive ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, while his former top lieutenants prepared to re-enter the political arena after a five-year ban.
The party of current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, was hoping to introduce legislation in Parliament Thursday that is widely seen as a possible first step toward providing amnesty for her fugitive brother’s convictions and allowing him to return unencumbered to Thailand.
Thaksin had been ousted by a 2006 military coup after being accused of abuse of power and disrespect to Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej. His party was dissolved by a legal decision the year after, and he was among the 111 executives of his Thai Rak Thai Party banned from politics for five years. He also was convicted in absentia of corruption while in self-imposed exile.
The prospect of Thaksin’s return has galvanized his opponents inside and outside Parliament, threatening to reopen political wounds from a six-year struggle between Thaksin’s opponents and supporters.
The street protests Wednesday were peaceful, but the scene was different in Parliament, where police had to keep order as the opposition Democrat Party sought to derail efforts to schedule debate on the bill. At one point, a female Democrat lawmaker dragged the House speaker’s empty chair off the podium, sparking a scuffle with government members of Parliament. A phalanx of policemen retrieved the chair.
Thaksin’s opponents sought to purge his influence after the coup, launching investigations of his finances and using other measures to try to cripple his political machine, which he built using a fortune made in telecommunications.
The re-entry into politics of Thaksin’s party leaders was widely expected to lead to a reshuffle in the Yingluck’s Cabinet, although many of the current members may be reluctant to give up their positions.
Karn Yuenyong, executive director of the independent, Bangkok-based research institute Siam Intelligence Unit, said the returnees could bring some valuable experience into the administration.
“This, in a way, will help the Yingluck government sail through its four-year term,” Karn said, adding that some of the current ministers “have not been performing really well in the past few months.”