DEVELOPING STORYDEVELOPING STORY,
Supporters celebrate as they welcome home former prime minister who was removed in a 2006 military coup.
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has landed back home in Thailand after 15 years in self-imposed exile.
Thaksin, who made his fortune in the telecommunications business, boarded a private plane in Singapore and landed at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport shortly after 9am (02:00 GMT) on Tuesday, according to Thailand’s Khaosod Media and Thai PBS.
His sister Yingluck Shinawatra, also a former prime minister, had earlier posted a video on TikTok showing Thaksin, dressed in dark suit with a red tie, walking up the steps to board the small aircraft.
Thousands of supporters, dressed in red, cheered, danced and sang as news of his arrival was announced, despite reports that he would be arrested by police and face criminal charges on his arrival in the country.
Thaksin swept to power in 2001 on a populist platform that appealed to rural Thais who had long been neglected by the country’s ruling elites. He was returned in a landslide five years later, but in September 2006, when Thaksin was in New York preparing to address the United Nations, the military seized power.
Thaksin was later convicted of abuse of power and went into exile, spending most of his time in Dubai.
Reports said the now 74-year-old politician would be arrested and taken to the Supreme Court to face the abuse of power and other charges that could see him jailed for as long as 10 years. Thaksin maintains the cases are politically motivated.
Thailand has been beset by political turmoil ever since the 2006 coup, with pro-Thaksin and rival pro-establishment supporters taking to the streets, amid a cycle of elections and coups.
Several thousand red shirts – the grassroots rural movement established to defend Thaksin’s government after the 2006 coup – gathered near the VIP terminal awaiting his arrival.
In a party atmosphere, with food and a soundtrack of the mo Lam music of Isaan, the ricebowl northeast that is the family’s stronghold, they danced and cheered as his plane touched down.
Many held placards saying ‘welcomeHome Thaksin’ and others chanted ‘welcome back Prime Minister’.
It was emotional for many, with some crying as they spoke of their devotion to Thaksin, principally for changing their economic fortunes after years of being ignored by successive governments in Bangkok.
His achievements included a universal healthcare scheme opening virtually free treatment for basic ailments to tens of millions of poor for the first time, as well as village clinics and start up funds.
Vote on new PM
Pheu Thai, the latest incarnation of Thaksin’s party, came second in elections held in May.
After the progressive Move Forward Party, which won the election, was unable to form a government because military-appointed senators in the upper house refused to support it, Pheu Thai cobbled together a grouping of parties, including those backed by the military.
A vote will be held later on Tuesday that could lead to the party’s Srettha Thavisin, a property tycoon, becoming prime minister.
Srettha has the backing of 314 legislators in the lower house but needs an additional 58 votes to secure the job, which requires the backing of a majority of both houses.
It is not clear how Thaksin, who remains a politically divisive figure, might be affected if Pheu Thai were to be successful.
The Associated Press news agency reported Wissanu Krea-ngam, deputy prime minister of the outgoing military-linked government, saying Thaksin would be eligible to request a pardon and could receive special treatment because of his age.
Thaksin was whisked away by police before he could greet his supporters in person, but as he is driven to court the posters hailing his return will be a reminder of their loyalty.
With reporting from Vijitra Dunagdee at Don Mueang airport in Bangkok