01/13/2022, 16.30
THAILAND
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Thaksin Shinawatra thinking about returning home

by Steve Suwannarat

After leading the country from 2001 to 2006, the telecommunications tycoon went into a golden exile in 2008 to avoid 12 years in prison. In an online event, he described his eventual return as “a gift for the Thais”. Many obstacles stand in the way of true national reconciliation, whilst street protests today are led by students and pro-democracy groups.

 

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thaksin Shinawatra is back in the spotlight after recently expressing a desire to go home.

Although he fled the country in 2008 to avoid a 12-year prison sentence, Thailand’s former prime minister never gave up on the idea of still playing a role in his country’s political life.

The 72-year-old politician and his Thai Rak Thai party were in power from 2001 to 2006.

A coup in September 2006 forced Thaksin out of office, but he continued to lead the opposition through people close to him and the Pheu Thai party, which remains the largest group opposing the ruling pro-military faction.

In a recent event streamed live online, he described his possible return as “gift for the Thais”. Yet, he remains a divisive figure.

A successful businessman in telecommunications, he entered the political arena in 1994, harnessing widespread dissatisfaction among the most disadvantaged Thais.

In particular, he rallied the country’s populous North-East, and improved their economic conditions by providing, for example, access to previously unattainable medical care, boosting economic growth, modernising business and financial structures, and better distributing wealth.

However, he also created a system of power that favoured his own interests, as well as those of his family and cronies.

According to his most ardent critics, he also sought to use his popularity to delegitimise if not abolish the monarchy, then headed by a highly respected monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, styled as Rama IX.

As a result of the coups d'état in 2006 and 2014, Thailand’s move towards democracy took steps backward, ending a period in which Thais living in the poorest and most populous regions had a greater chance of expressing themselves and being heard. The current government is still based on the 2014 coup.

Thailand’s political opposition and several of the groups that have staged protests in recent years openly refer to the 1996 Constitution, the only one that was not imposed. But the latest actions are largely the work of student and pro-democracy movements rather than pro-Thaksin groups.

Thaksin’s latest remarks have nonetheless revived the debate over his eventual return. The latter might be a useful step towards national reconciliation, but it will probably require a royal pardon from the current sovereign, king Vajiralongkorn (Rama X), son of Rama IX who died in 2016. Under the current office holder, the role of king has been openly questioned for the first time in Thai history.

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