Thaksin Shinawatra: Divisive ex-PM returns to Thailand after 15 years of Exile

The return of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from 15 years of exile has sent shockwaves through the country’s political landscape. His presence has always been highly anticipated, and it comes at a crucial juncture in Thailand’s political evolution.

Thaksin is undeniably one of the most polarizing figures in Thai history. His remarkable electoral successes over more than two decades provoked strong reactions from conservative forces, including military coups, government ministry occupations, contentious court rulings that ousted prime ministers, and the dissolution of pro-Thaksin political parties.

Now, Thaksin Shinawatra’s return seems to have been facilitated by a quiet agreement with his royalist adversaries to keep him out of prison, where he faces approximately 10 years in sentences from cases he claims were politically motivated.

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Expected to go from Don Mueang Airport straight to the Supreme Court in Bangkok and likely to spend the night in a prison hospital, Thaksin’s stay in custody is not expected to be long.

Despite his controversial history, Thaksin still has substantial support in the country, with many eagerly awaiting his return. This is evident in the hundreds of supporters who gathered at the airport to welcome him back.

The timing of Thaksin’s return coincides with his party, Pheu Thai, attempting to form the next government. The process has taken Thailand on a convoluted journey, from initial hopes of a new era led by the young Move Forward party to an almost certain coalition involving almost everyone except the reformers.

Pheu Thai insists that Thaksin Shinawatra ‘s return and the coalition formation are unrelated. However, many are skeptical of this claim, given the complex political landscape in Thailand.

One significant factor impacting Pheu Thai’s position is the unelected senate, comprising 250 members appointed during the military junta’s rule after a 2014 coup.

The senate’s role is to block any party that might challenge the status quo, which has long been dominated by the monarchy, military, and big business.

In the negotiations for a new coalition, Pheu Thai had to accept former opponents due to its need for senate support. This pragmatic approach has raised concerns among some party members, who believe it may alienate the party’s grassroots supporters and weaken its once-dominant position in Thai politics.

The convergence of interests between Pheu Thai and ultra-royalists, who were previously at odds, illustrates the shifting dynamics of Thai politics.

The perceived threat posed by the Move Forward party and a younger generation demanding a discussion about the monarchy’s power and wealth outweighed the historical feud between the ultra-royalists and the Shinawatra family.

Ultimately, Thaksin’s return and Pheu Thai’s pursuit of government seem to have taken precedence over party reputation and principles.

However, this pragmatic approach may come at the cost of alienating supporters and reshaping the landscape of Thai politics for years to come.

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