Observers question Thaksin’s return

Pheu Thai ‘spiritual leader’ leaves Dubai for Singapore ahead of PM vote

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra reaches out to local supporters in Thailand and members of the Pheu Thai Party via a video conference in 2021. (Screenshot)
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra reaches out to local supporters in Thailand and members of the Pheu Thai Party via a video conference in 2021. (Screenshot)

Fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s latest announcement on his return to Thailand is seen as a reflection of his confidence in Pheu Thai’s formation of a new government, but some political observers remain sceptical about his trip.

Thaksin’s return from self-imposed exile is scheduled for Tuesday, the same day parliament will meet to select the country’s 30th prime minister.

Pheu Thai, which is expected to nominate Srettha Thavisin for the post, has brought the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party into its coalition, with the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) pledging to support its candidate despite not formally joining the alliance.

According to Paetongtarn Shina-­ watra, Thaksin’s youngest daughter, her father will turn up at Don Mueang airport at 9am on his private jet.

Thaksin and his sister, Yingluck, reportedly left Dubai for Singapore yesterday, and he would depart for Don Mueang airport on Tuesday.

Journalists have been told to register and wait at the airport’s Building 4.

Panthongtae, his son, and Banpot Damapong, brother of his ex-wife Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra, are scheduled to meet him in Singapore and travel with him to Thailand.

Thaksin previously announced that he would return to Thailand on Aug 10, but later postponed the trip due to a medical check-up appointment, prompting some political analysts to take Thaksin’s latest return announcement with a grain of salt.

Yutthaporn Issarachai, a political science lecturer at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said whether Thaksin returns or not, his announcement works as a strategy to boost confidence among Pheu Thai members and supporters.

Describing Thaksin as Pheu Thai’s spiritual leader, Mr Yutthaporn said while his return may influence the outcome of the vote, it is unlikely to change it because the vote will be finished by then.

“But I’m not sure if Thaksin’s magic still works now that the political situation has changed,” he said. “Pheu Thai couldn’t dominate the elections, so his return may not make much difference.”

Jatuporn Prompan, former chairman of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, said Thaksin has lost credibility, adding Thaksin’s words are not to be believed until the ex-prime minister steps foot on Thai soil.

Mr Jatuporn said Thaksin can return any day he wants, but the fact that he picked Aug 22, which coincides with the prime minister vote, suggests the two developments are related.

“There could be a change of tactic,” he said. “[Thaksin] has refused to enter the justice system for 15 years and now has a change of heart.

“Wait until you see him,” he added. “He has lied about it [return plans], and there’s nothing for him to lose any more.”

He said he believes that Mr Srettha would not become the next prime minister.

Thanaporn Sriyakul, director of the Institute of Politics and Policy Analysis, said Thaksin will return on Tuesday because he feels confident about Pheu Thai’s chances of forming the next government.

“Thaksin’s return is rather good than bad [for Pheu Thai’s coalition] because partners want to directly talk to the showrunner,” he said. “They can still talk to him although he is overseas. But it is more convenient if he’s here.”

Mr Thanaporn is sceptical that Mr Srettha will be endorsed for the prime minister post. He said that in his view, Thaksin should feel most confident about returning if his daughter is elected as prime minister.

He added that if Pheu Thai proceeds to nominate Mr Srettha and fails to get him elected on Tuesday, the caretaker government will have the right to proceed with the appointments of high-ranking officials.

Also, Thaksin confirmed his Tuesday return in an interview with BBC Thai. According to the news outlet, Thaksin said there would be no more postponement and that he would leave Dubai for Singapore before entering Thailand. In the interview, he also expressed confidence that Mr Srettha would be endorsed as PM, but his journey home would have nothing to do with the vote.

Acting justice minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the ministry has yet to be officially informed of Thaksin’s return plan, but preparations have been made. Mr Wissanu said Thaksin will be taken to court before being sent to a designated prison.

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