Thailand’s Pheu Thai launches PM bid as fugitive figurehead Thaksin eyes return


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Thailand’s Pheu Thai launches PM bid as fugitive figurehead Thaksin eyes return

SRETTHA THAVISIN. Pheu Thai's prime ministerial candidate, Srettha Thavisin, who is set to be nominated for premier in a parliamentary vote on Tuesday, arrives before a party members' meeting at the party headquarters, in Bangkok, Thailand, August 21, 2023.

Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Almost certain to overshadow the vote will be the likely dramatic return of 74-year-old Thaksin Shinawatra, a former premier who is loved and loathed in equal measures in Thailand

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand’s Pheu Thai Party will seek to form a new government with some of its biggest rivals in a parliamentary vote on Tuesday, August 22, coinciding with the promise of a historic return from 17 years of exile by its fugitive figurehead Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thailand has been under a caretaker government since March and its new parliament has been deadlocked for weeks after anti-establishment election winners Move Forward were blocked by conservative lawmakers, leaving populist heavyweight Pheu Thai to lead a new effort.

The winner of five elections over the past two decades, Pheu Thai, a political juggernaut founded by the billionaire Shinawatra family, has agreed a contentious alliance including two parties backed by a military that overthrew two of its governments in coups in 2006 and 2014.

The lower house and military-appointed Senate must decide on Tuesday whether to endorse the prime ministerial nomination of Srettha Thavisin, a real estate tycoon who was thrust into politics just a few months ago.

Srettha said on Monday Pheu Thai had failed to secure the outright majority it had targeted, so its only chance of governing was in partnership with some rivals it had vowed not to work with.

“Things that were said during the election were one thing. But we didn’t really get the landslide, so we had to renege,” said Srettha, who has the support of 317 lawmakers and needs 58 votes from the Senate to secure the requisite backing of half of the legislature.

“We are not lying to the people, but we have to be realistic.”

Loved and loathed

Almost certain to overshadow Tuesday’s vote will be the likely dramatic return of 74-year-old Thaksin, a former premier who is loved and loathed in equal measures in the Southeast Asian country.

Early on Tuesday, his sister Yingluck Shinawatra posted images on Facebook of Thaksin boarding a jet, without specifying the location and when the pictures were taken. Thai media reported the plane had left Singapore.

“The day my brother has waited for has arrived,” Yingluck posted.

He fled abroad in 2008 to avoid a jail sentence for abuse of power, two years after the military toppled him alleging corruption and disloyalty to the monarchy.

Thaksin, a former policeman, telecoms tycoon and English Premier League football club owner, won the hearts of millions of working-class Thais with populist giveaways ranging from cash handouts and village loans to farm subsidies and universal healthcare.

But his popularity and his support for a new wave of capitalist upstarts put him at odds with a nexus of royalists, military and old money families, triggering an intractable power struggle that is still being played out today.

Thaksin maintains all charges and allegations against him were trumped up to keep him from power and has over the years repeatedly promised to make his return.

He is expected to be arrested upon his return and taken directly to the Supreme Court for a hearing, then transferred to a prison, according to the national police commissioner.

Thaksin seems determined and confident to follow through this time, however, with widespread speculation that Pheu Thai’s alliance with its enemies is part of a behind-the-scenes deal Thaksin may have struck to allow his return.

Pheu Thai has denied Thaksin’s involvement in its bid to form a government and the former leader has for months denied conspiring with the generals who led coups against him and Yingluck in 2006 and 2014.

“Tomorrow, at 9 a.m., I want permission to come back to live on Thai soil and breathe the air with other Thai people,” Thaksin said on social media platform X, formerly Twitter. –

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