In a dramatic turn of events, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has made a bold return to his home country after 15 years in self-imposed exile. His arrival was swiftly followed by his apprehension and subsequent imprisonment, marking a crucial chapter in Thailand’s complex political landscape.
On Tuesday, Thaksin’s private plane touched down at Don Mueang Airport at approximately 9 am local time, carrying the once-powerful leader from Singapore. His homecoming was met with a fervent crowd of supporters who gathered to welcome him, illustrating the lasting influence he continues to wield. However, the celebratory atmosphere was short-lived as he was promptly escorted to the Supreme Court, where he faced long-standing convictions, which he contends are rooted in a political plot against him.
Accompanied by his youngest daughter Paetongtarn, who is an influential figure within the family’s political entity, Pheu Thai, Thaksin’s return has fueled speculation about the motives behind his comeback. Many ponder whether a behind-the-scenes “super-deal” has paved the way for his resurgence, potentially affording him unique privileges, such as placement in a specialized facility for elderly inmates, as he seeks a royal pardon from King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Thaksin’s journey from a former police officer to a telecommunications tycoon has been marked by both unprecedented success and controversial downfall. In 2008, he chose self-imposed exile to evade a two-year prison sentence related to a property transaction. This legal decision followed the 2006 political upheaval that ousted his government from power, highlighting the persistent tug-of-war between civilian and military leadership in the country.
This recurring power struggle has cast a shadow over Thailand’s political landscape for almost two decades, leaving the nation grappling with the aftermath of prolonged unrest. Thaksin’s sudden return, after several failed attempts, coincides with Thailand’s renewed bout of political turmoil. The recent May election witnessed a shift in public support towards alternative parties, symbolizing a growing weariness with the enduring influence of military-backed leaders like Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwon, known colloquially as the “Uncles.”
Despite this shifting political climate, the path to government formation remains fraught with challenges. The victorious Move Forward Party, which outperformed Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party, has encountered hurdles in the form of the non-elected Senate. This has left the possibility of an opposition role for the election victors, a stark contrast to their electoral gains.
In the midst of these developments, the bicameral parliament convened on Tuesday to cast their votes in the crucial decision of selecting a new premier. Srettha Thavisin, a prominent real estate mogul representing Pheu Thai, emerged as a contender. His potential elevation to the prime ministerial position hinges on securing a simple majority, which would subsequently form a coalition government comprising 11 parties, largely aligned with Pheu Thai’s ideals. Notably, this coalition features two parties historically linked with military figures aiming to diminish the influence of the Shinawatra family.
This turn of events has elicited mixed responses within Pheu Thai and its foundational supporters, colloquially known as the “Red Shirts.” Some accuse the party of forsaking its democratic principles, particularly due to its alignment with military-associated factions. Throughout Thailand’s history of political clashes, many of these supporters have borne the brunt of confrontations while defending parties linked to the Shinawatra legacy.
Vorawut Silapa-cha, the leader of the Chart Pattana Party, a collaborator of Pheu Thai, provided insight into the unfolding situation. He acknowledged the distinct nature of Thaksin’s rights and the impending prime ministerial vote, highlighting the complexity of the situation. “They are two separate issues, one is the right of one man, the other is the vote for a prime minister. But it is a first step,” he commented, alluding to the intricate web of Thai politics that continues to evolve.