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EntertainmentTVAfter 15 years of self-exile, the former prime minister...

After 15 years of self-exile, the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra returns to a politically divided Thailand.


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Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra,

who has been on the run for more than 15 years, made his first official return to the nation on Tuesday. His arrival reintroduced a towering and contentious figure at a time when the kingdom’s sometimes tumultuous political environment is in a new state of change.

Former owner of Manchester City Football Club and patriarch of a well-known political dynasty, Thaksin overthrown in a military coup in 2006 while in New York for a UN summit.

He briefly visited Thailand again before leaving the country in 2008 due to a corruption conviction, and the Supreme Court sentenced him to eight years in prison upon his reappearance on Tuesday. Analysts disagree as to whether he will actually serve that time.

With parliamentarians trying to break the political impasse that has existed for more than three months following the election victory of a popular progressive party that has been thwarted by the kingdom’s political elites, Thaksin’s homecoming after so many years coincides with an anticipated parliamentary vote for a new prime minister.

Thaksin, 74, had been teasing his return for weeks, but the first concrete evidence of it appeared in videos of his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, who also lives in self-exile, hugging her brother before he boarded a plane in Singapore on Tuesday morning.

At 9 a.m. local time, thousands of supporters followed Thaksin’s private plane as it touched down at Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport. About 90 minutes later, he and his kids left the airport’s private jet terminal, welcomed a group of fans, and then bowed before a picture of Thailand’s monarch.

Paetongtarn, the daughter of Thaksin, published a picture of her father holding his newborn grandchild for the first time.

The Thai Corrections Department is now in charge of Thaksin, who was brought into custody. In a press conference, Corrections Department spokesperson Sitthi Sutivong stated that after a medical examination, doctors determined that he was in a “fragile group” and that due to his health issues (a history of heart disease and a lung infection from Covid-19), he would be held in a separate room under 24-hour observation.

Although Thaksin has the option to request a royal pardon, neither he nor his family have done so, according to Sitthi. A separate visiting room would also be set up for Thaksin due to the enormous number of visitors who wish to see him, he added.

divided country
Thaksin built a political force that has dominated Thai politics in some capacity for the past 20 years with his populist policies that catered to Thailand’s rural and working classes.

Srettha Thavisin, a real estate magnate, will be the candidate put up by the Thaksin-backed Pheu Thai party, which finished second in the May poll.

Pheu Thai on Monday, in a surprising about-face, reached an agreement with its old military adversaries in an effort to win enough parliamentary support to establish a government.

Despite emphasizing opposition to the military in its election campaign, Palang Pracharath and the United Thai Nation Party are part of its 11-party coalition.

Both of those parties are connected to the military dictatorship that overthrew a democratically elected government led by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck and are associated with coup leader and outgoing prime minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha.

At the Don Mueang airport in Bangkok, Thailand, on August 22, the former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was joined by his children, Panthongtae and Paetongtarn.
At the Don Mueang airport in Bangkok, Thailand, on August 22, the former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was joined by his children, Panthongtae and Paetongtarn.
With Athit Perawongmetha
In addition, the action goes against the wishes of the vast majority of Thai voters who supported progressive parties in the May election, dealing a severe blow to the military-backed elite that has dominated Thailand since the coup.

Move Forward Party, which received the most votes during the election, would not be a part of the coalition, according to Cholnan Srikaew, the leader of the Pheu Thai Party.

A taboo subject in Thailand, where any honest discussion of the monarchy is fraught with the prospect of prison due to strong lese majeste laws known as Article 112, Move Forward won on a platform of radical change and had committed to undertake royal reform.

The partnership is probably going to throw fuel to the fire of the progressive movement’s young support base and raise the possibility for large-scale street protests now that Move Forward is in the opposition.

Approximately 64% of 1,310 respondents in a survey by the National Institute of Development Administration objected or entirely disagreed with the idea of the Pheu Thai party forming a “special government” with opponents who were supported by the military, according to Reuters.

Thaksin Shinawatra: Who is He?
The uncertainly surrounding Thaksin’s homecoming now adds another element to the tumultuous political climate.

Thaksin, a billionaire in the telecoms industry, came to power in 2001 after winning a resounding election. Thanks to his offers of free healthcare, debt relief, and his anti-establishment position, he became extremely well-liked among the rural poor. Eventually, corporations flocked to him as well, partly because of his patented “Thaksinomics,” which helped usher in a period of economic boom.

The policies, which were aimed at rural Thais, who make up the majority of the population, and included loans and debt moratoria for farmers as well as subsidized fuel prices and greater access to healthcare and education, were loathed by the wealthy elites and conservatives who accused Thaksin of being a risky and corrupt populist.

Since 1932, the military in Thailand has successfully staged more than a dozen coups, giving them a long history of usurping power.

Following his ouster in 2006 and the threat of a prison sentence due to corruption-related charges, Thaksin enforced his own exile.

According to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor of political science . “He became a threat because his popularity was competing against the establishment.”

Despite being physically absent, Thaksin continues to have a significant impact on Thai politics. Political parties affiliated with Thaksin had won the most seats in every election since 2001 up until this year, but they had difficulty holding onto power as a result of the military’s interference, whether through coups or other ways.

For instance, Yingluck, a sister of Thaksin, was appointed as the nation’s first female prime minister in 2011 before being removed from office in 2014 due to allegations of abuse of power by the Constitutional Court.
A candidate for prime minister, addresses the crowd on July 9, 2023 in Bangkok, Thailand. The progressive Move Forward Party, which won the most seats in the May 14 election, will only nominate Pita for the position of prime minister in the eight-party coalition that has claimed a claim to create Thailand’s next government. (Image courtesy of NurPhoto/Anusak Laowilas via AP)
Thai democracy faces a test as parliament fails to choose a new prime minister.
The Pheu Thai administration was then overthrown by the former army head Prayut, and Yingluck fled into exile alongside Thaksin. Since then, Prayut has been in charge of Thailand. In July, he declared his intention to stop running for office.

“His opponents and foes have tried everything to depose (Thaksin), including doing so twice — once in 2006 against him and once in 2014 against his sister — through a military coup. His parties have been disbanded twice, according to Thitinan. “In Thailand, we’ve been through so much.”

Paetongtarn, the daughter of Thaksin, into the spotlight this year when she was chosen by the Pheu Thai party as one of three candidates for prime minister in the May election, just before the Move Forward Party unexpectedly won.

a window of chance
According to observers, Move Forward’s rapid growth may have presented a chance for Thaksin to finally return to Thailand.

The party calls for more reforms than even Pheu Thai ever did, including changes to the armed forces, the economy, the decentralization of authority, and the once-impenetrable monarchy.

Many young people support it because they “saw that Thailand was going nowhere,” according to Thitinan. “The military and the conservative, royalist establishment were holding Thailand back and wasting their future.”

But the establishment, a strong clique with close ties to the military, royalist, and commercial establishments, is at risk from that agenda. It also relieves pressure from Thaksin, who, according to Thitinan, had long been the main roadblock facing Thailand’s leaders.

He claimed that since Thaksin was no longer a threat, there was now a chance for him to reach an agreement. He is 74 years old, and this was the first election that his party lost. The actual threat comes from Move Forward, hence Thaksin is moving to return.

The second-eldest son of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Vacharaesorn Vivacharawongse, 42, prays during a religious rite at the Wat Yannawa temple in Bangkok, Thailand, on August 10, 2023. Athit Perawongmetha for Reuters
Analysis: King’s estranged sons who live in the US are visiting at a sensitive time for Thailand’s monarchy.
Political analysts have hypothesized that given his court convictions and the charges against him, Thaksin may have reached some sort of agreement with Thai authorities for his homecoming.

Even though his supporters may be celebrating his return home, Thaksin still has a strong base of support. However, he also faces criticism for his alleged wrongdoing, enormous riches, and dictatorial leadership style.

Additionally, the country he will return to is significantly dissimilar from the one he left. Mass rallies calling for monarchy reform in 2020 were among the hitherto unimaginable displays of dissent brought on by the mounting discontent, particularly among the younger population.

Thaksin is no longer the center of Thai politics, according to Thitinan. “The Move Forward Party is proposing institutional reforms of the royalist establishment; it is no longer about Thaksin populism in Thailand.”

Any deal Thaksin makes with the Thai establishment might be viewed as a betrayal of the values he once fought to uphold.

Since Move Forward has been barred from the restaurant for two decades, Thitinan claimed that Pheu Thai has been a victim of the royalist establishment.

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