After five years in exile, Thaksin plots return to Thailand


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has told thousands of his supporters that he believes reconciliation is taking place in Thailand and that he could even return to the country in a matter of months.

At a rally in Cambodia attended by crowds of his supporters who travelled from Thailand for the event, the former premier sang, joked and talked about his painful homesickness. “There are signs of reconciliation. Everybody wants it. There are signs that I will be able to return home to stay with you,” he said, according to the Agence France-Presse. He said that this year’s celebrations for royal anniversaries in Thailand made it an “auspicious time”.

The twice-elected Mr Thaksin was forced from office in 2006 by a military coup, engineered by his opponents when he was out of the country. Subsequently convicted in absentia of corruption during his time in office and sentenced to two years in jail, he has since lived in exile, most recently in Dubai.

Mr Thaksin remains a deeply polarising figure in Thailand. While he has widespread support among the rural and urban poor who benefited from a series of populist measures he enacted while in office – sufficient to elect two allies as prime minister after his ousting – he is deeply disliked by a coalition of urban middle-classes, military officers and the business elite.

But the victory in last year’s election by his Pheu Thai party that saw his younger sister Yingluck take office as prime minister has created an opportunity for the 62-year-old to return, almost certainly as part of broader amnesty linked to stumbling reconciliation efforts.

Mr Thaksin has never convincingly hidden his wish to return to Thailand. At an interview last year in Dubai where he talked about how he missed his children, he insisted he would not return if it created disruption. “I will not add any more problems for the country,” he said.

The administration of his sister has so far sought to avoid confrontation over many of the most controversial issues in Thai society and has been careful to stress that no special case can be made just for Mr Thaksin. On several occasions since Mr Thaksin’s ousting Thailand has been rocked by political violence, most recently in the spring of 2010 when more than 90 people were killed, almost all by the security forces.

Efforts to establish an agreement for an amnesty for all people facing politics-related convictions have been plagued by problems. The opposition Democrat party headed by former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, has pulled out of a committee set-up to consider the issue and has recently warned of a “political tsunami” if Mr Thaksin’s crimes are “white-washed”. Observers have pointed out the irony that the committee is headed by former general Sonthi Boonyaratglin, a soldier-turned-politician who led the 2006 coup that forced Mr Thaksin from office.

The government appears keen to try and secure Mr Thaksin’s return at some point this year. A government adviser last month told The Independent that he would not be able to take up a political role. But he added: “Thai people all suffer from home-sickness.”

Mr Thaksin’s rally in the Cambodian town of Siem Reap followed a similar event in neighbouring Laos a day earlier and was held to mark the Buddhist new year.