Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was jailed for eight years on Tuesday just hours after arriving in Thailand, ending a 15-year self-imposed exile.
After his arrival, the police escorted him to the Supreme Court for a hearing regarding three convictions in his absence, which he claims were a political conspiracy.
A private plane carrying the former leader from Singapore landed at Don Mueang Airport around 9am local time. Upon exiting the airport, he was met by a large crowd of supporters and he soon went back inside, as captured by live Thai news broadcasts.
Thaksin was accompanied by his youngest daughter Paetongtarn, one of the leaders of the family political vehicle Pheu Thai.
There has been a lot of speculation regarding Thaksin’s comeback, specifically if it’s the result of a “super-deal” with former political adversaries.
This deal might allow for him to be placed in a specialized facility designed for older prisoners, as he swiftly petitions for a royal pardon from King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Thaksin, who transitioned from a police role to becoming a telecommunications magnate, left the country in 2008 to avoid a two-year imprisonment over a property transaction. This verdict came after a 2006 political upheaval that overthrew his government.
The military’s unwillingness to hand over power to civilians for extended periods led to almost two decades of political unrest, from which the country is still trying to recover.
His unexpected comeback, after many unsuccessful endeavors, coincides with Thailand being embroiled in renewed political turmoil.
A May election witnessed Pheu Thai falling behind the Move Forward Party. The public shifted their support towards newer alternatives, weary of the prolonged unstable governance by the “Uncles”, army generals Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwon.
Yet, Move Forward’s attempts at government formation have been blocked by the non-elected Senate, suggesting the election victors might be in the opposition.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the 750-member bicameral parliament will cast their votes for Pheu Thai’s Srettha Thavisin, a real estate mogul, to determine his eligibility for the premier position.
If he secures a simple majority, he will lead a coalition comprised of 11 parties, predominantly from Pheu Thai. This coalition also includes two parties associated with the generals who have long sought to diminish the Shinawatra’s political influence.
This has sparked claims of abandoning the democracy movement by many in the party and its “Red Shirt” foundational supporters. A significant number of them have been casualties in political confrontations defending Shinawatra-aligned parties.
Vorawut Silapa-cha, leader of the Chart Pattana Party collaborating with Pheu Thai, expressed that Thaksin’s return marked “a promising onset”.
“They are two separate issues, one is the right of one man, the other is the vote for a prime minister. But it is a first step,” he commented.