Thailand’s former PM Thaksin Shinawatra jailed after return from exile


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Thailand’s former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has returned to the country after 15 years to face a jail sentence, hours before a key vote in parliament that is expected to usher his political allies into power.

The billionaire, who was deposed in a coup d’état in 2006 and has been in self-imposed exile for 15 years, flew to Thailand from Singapore on Tuesday morning.

He was greeted by crowds of supporters at the airport before being brought to the Supreme Court, where a judge confirmed his sentence of eight years in prison on various corruption and abuse of power-related charges, according to a statement from the court.

Few observers expect the former prime minister, who is 74 and was convicted in absentia, to serve significant time behind bars. His Pheu Thai party is preparing for a vote in parliament on Tuesday and hopes to install its candidate as prime minister with the backing of the military establishment.

Thailand has been locked in political stalemate since an election in May, when Move Forward, an upstart progressive party, shocked the country’s political elite by sweeping to victory on a pledge of wholesale reform of the powerful royalist-military establishment.

But Move Forward did not attract enough partners to form a government, in part because of its vow to amend Thailand’s controversial lèse majesté law, which imposes prison sentences of up to 15 years for insulting the monarchy.

The party’s leader, 42-year-old Harvard- and Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated Pita Limjaroenrat, fell short in the first prime minister vote last month. He was later blocked from contesting the post again and suspended from parliament pending an investigation into his ownership of shares in a defunct television broadcaster.

Pheu Thai, which finished second in May’s election, has put forward Srettha Thavisin, 61, a former property tycoon, to lead an 11-party coalition that includes the military-backed incumbent Palang Pracharath party and the United Thai Nation party. The latter is led by current prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former military chief who has ruled Thailand since he unseated Thaksin’s younger sister Yingluck in a 2014 coup.

Move Forward has said it will not back Srettha because of Pheu Thai’s co-operation with the military-backed groups. It will sit in the opposition.

“Thaksin has to come back to regenerate some popularity [for the party],” said Paul Chambers, an expert in Thai politics at Naresuan University. “Pheu Thai is now the status quo party.”

“Thaksin has lost the moral high ground,” he added.

Thaksin, who has lived mostly in Dubai since leaving Thailand in 2008, has dominated Thai politics for two decades and is reviled by the conservative royalist-military establishment but admired by rural and working-class voters for his poverty alleviation policies.

His return comes at “a very high cost” for the party, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University. Its supporters “were shot at and killed by the military, whose parties Pheu Thai is hopping into bed with to form this government . . . just to get Thaksin back”.

Thaksin “is desperate to come back”, he added. “It might be his last window. After this, who knows when he could come back again, and under what conditions.”

A poll by the National Institute of Development Administration released on Sunday showed almost 65 per cent of respondents disapproved of Pheu Thai forming a coalition with the government-backed parties.

Srettha on Monday denied that the party had “misled” supporters despite pre-election vows that it would not join a coalition with military-backed parties. The party needed to “acknowledge the harsh realities and make difficult choices to progress and aid the people”, he said.

The next government will face considerable challenges following almost a decade of military rule in Thailand, including reviving south-east Asia’s second-biggest economy, which expanded just 1.8 per cent year on year in the second quarter.

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Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

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