Thaksin faces a momentous personal decision to run the gauntlet of being arrested at Don Mueang Airport and lodged at Bangkok Remand Prison on Thursday, August 10th with the prospects of a 10-year jail term ahead of him and potential future charges while the Pheu Thai Party faces instantaneous loss of its long term support base if it enters a coalition government as part of a ‘super deal’ with parties associated with the outgoing government and the former military junta. A deal is reported to be in place but over the weekend, doubts were reported to be setting in.

The return of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is becoming enmeshed with the current power struggle at a political level going on between conservative and progressive forces after the General Election threw up a result which has put the Pheu Thai Party in the centre of the political spectrum with the capability of swinging political power in Thailand from one group to another. The fate of Mr Thaksin, who is the de facto leader of the party, has thus become linked to the political fate of the country and is at the confluence of a plot hatched by the conservatives to break up the eight-party coalition pact signed by the Move Forward Party, the Pheu Thai Party and six other smaller parties for a ‘Government of Hope’ on the 22nd May 2023, nine years to the day after the 2014 coup d’état. On Friday, the planned return of Mr Thaksin on August 10th to Thailand, announced by his daughter on July 26th, was thrown into doubt when Mr Chuwit Kamolvisit, the political activist who has a knack for detecting what is happening behind the scenes, revealed that Mr Thaksin has gotten cold feet fearing that he may be the victim of deception.

Plans have been finalised to receive former PM Thaksin Shinawatra (right) at Don Mueang Airport on August 10th and arrest him, bring him before a court and lodge him in prison. On Friday night, whistleblower Chuwit Kamolvisit said the deal was off as the former prime minister smelt a rat while his daughter, Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra, later described Mr Chuwit’s assertion as ‘baseless’. The return to Thailand of Mr Thaksin is reportedly linked to a new government of reconciliation between old Yellow and Red shirt parties including the Palang Pracharat Party led by General Prawit Wongsuwan and the Pheu Thai Party led by Dr Cholnan Srikaew to the exclusion of the current pro-democracy and progressive Move Forward Party led by Mr Pita Limjaroenrat whose colour is Orange. The secret deal being hatched would break up the eight-party ‘Government of Hope’ pact signed on 22nd May 2023 (left).

Up until Friday in Bangkok, it was accepted that former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra would be returning to Thailand on August 10th next. He was expected to land at Don Mueang Airport. 

On Friday afternoon, the Director General of the Department of Corrections, Ayuth Sintoppant, came forward to assure the public that the former premier would be safely incarcerated in prison after his arrest on August 10th by Immigration Bureau officers on arrival back in Thailand. 

Acting Minister of Justice, on Friday, gave assurances regarding Mr Thaksin’s treatment and security in prison on his return to Thailand to face justice

It followed confirmation from Acting Minister of Justice and Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the government’s legal advisor, who explained that on being arrested at Don Mueang Airport, where he was expected to arrive aboard a private jet, Mr Thaksin would be taken to court where three orders for imprisonment would be confirmed against him.

The plan is that Mr Thaksin would be taken to Bangkok Remand Prison where special facilities are taught to have been prepared for him, not air-conditioned rooms as anti-corruption activist Mr Chuwit Kamolvisit has claimed, but a room for senior prisoners with a fan and with round-the-clock security as Mr Thaksin is expected to be treated as a special prisoner because of his unique status and the potential danger to him in the prison system.

He is to have specially appointed guards to ensure his safety. 

Chuwit shattered the narrative on Friday as questions also grew for the Pheu Thai Party as to what links there might be to Thaksin’s reported return

However, on Friday this supposition was shattered when the country’s arch-truth-teller Mr Chuwit came out to suggest that Thaksin had got wind of deception linked with his planned return by the conservative establishment and had cancelled it.

The game had taken a new twist according to Chuwit.

‘Thaksin is retreating and has cancelled his plans to return to Thailand. The situation has changed,’ Mr Chuwit telegraphed his followers in a social media post.

He talked obliquely about the lyrics to a love song where a man is deceived ‘again and again’ by a woman as he explained the potential danger that may be facing Thaksin back in Thailand.

That danger has a strong political context and this was alluded to by acting United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leader Thida Thavornset on Friday also when she suggested that she believed that the former Prime Minister may have become a political hostage.

Fears grow that Thaksin has become a pawn for conservatives to break the 8 party democratic pact

The country’s traditional establishment and elite including its military and civil establishment is facing a radical challenge to how the government is run.

Talk of a government of reconciliation chimes neatly with the rhetoric being used by Palang Pracharat Party leader Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan in March

In March of this year, in the runup to the May 14th General Election, General Prawit Wongsuwan, the leader of the Palang Pracharat Party spoke of this elite in Thailand’s power hierarchy when he warned that there were still people who favoured the use of military intervention or a coup d’état to solve political stalemates or crises in the kingdom.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan warns that those in power who support coups still exist

General Prawit continued to put himself forward in this year’s election as a peacemaker between the two groups and talked of a process of reconciliation in Thai politics.

His party repeatedly floated the prospect of a breakthrough ‘super deal’ with the Pheu Thai Party, a pact between the Yellow and Red shirt groups of Thai politics, the former being conservatives, the latter populists.

However a new threat to that political order emerged in the shape of the Move Forward Party, a party represented by the colour orange, that is no longer reliant on populist policies synonymous with Pheu Thai and Thaksin Shinawatra, but whose radical agenda is the reform of the kingdom and adherence to purely democratic principles in its governance. 

Thai colour-coded politics changed inconveniently to Orange on May 14th just when Yellow conservatives and Red populists thought they would reconcile

It is understood that this challenges key power elements in Thailand which is governed by an elite, including wealthy patrons, business people and members of the ruling apparatus who aspire to keep the country running on a more traditional track.

They warn against the danger of the Move Forward Party and its agenda for instance, as the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party of General Prayut Chan Ocha did in the closing days of the May 14th election.

It published a controversial video cautioning that the modern or Western values being espoused by the Move Forward Party were ultimately not good for Thailand and would see a return to chaos and strife on the streets while the country would lose touch with its traditional culture.

Dark predictions as the opposition parties look set to sweep to power in next weekend’s General Election

This refrain could be seen in the combative debate which we saw on July 19th in Parliament during the nomination of Mr Pita Limjaroenrat as Prime Minister in a six-hour debate where members of the conservative benches portrayed the Move Forward Party as a cult controlling the young population of Thailand, posing a terrible danger to the country.

Thailand is facing a deep political crisis as Pita loses key vote and top court takes up complaints

In this current political climate, the establishment parties see the Pheu Thai Party as a key swing factor in controlling the rise of the Move Forward Party. 

Thaksin and Pheu Thai’s position is currently fraught with real danger as both contemplate abandoning their support bases for short-term expediency

Many political commentators have noted, as has Mr Chuwit on Friday and Saturday, that Mr Thaksin can be considered the de facto leader of the Pheu Thai Party and the current week has seen that borne true, with the leadership of that party, in recent days, appearing to be in a state of confusion and stasis as reports came through of this backroom deal between conservative elements and political parties and Pheu Thai which still appears to cling to its commitment to the eight party coalition pact which the Move Forward Party has resolved not to pull out of, leaving Pheu Thai with a massive political dilemma.

Pheu Thai may face a terrible dilemma as outgoing government parties still aim for power in PM vote

On Sunday, some reports suggested that Pheu Thai is beginning to see the danger of the current position it finds itself in.

Perhaps influenced by Ms Thida Thavornset and Mr Chuwit Kamolvisit, political analysts have warned that if the party crosses the line and gives its support to a new government, which sources have confirmed it is planning to do, made up of parties associated with the previous ministry, in particular the Palang Pracharat Party led by General Prawit Wongsuwan and the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party which was associated in the election with outgoing Prime Minister General Prayut Chan ocha, all will be lost for its political future.

The warnings suggest that the party which won the 2011 General Election and is the successor to a political movement, associated with Mr Thaksin and his family, which won three elections before that in 2001, 2005 and 2007, will find itself instantly severed from its support base and facing decimation in the next election.

Trend of the country is clear, Thailand’s younger generation wants change and a full democracy along Western lines without constraint or authoritarianism

The establishment is understood to have been severely shocked by the May 14th General Election result where the Move Forward Party, which arose from the dissolution of the Future Forward Party, struck down by the Constitutional Court in February 2020, romped home as the election winner, winning 151 seats in the House of Representatives and more than doubling the tally achieved by Future Forward in the 2019 election. 

Future Forward Party dissolved – leadership banned from politics by Constitutional Court order

The trend is clear for the establishment, the youth and younger generation of Thailand aspire to a true and full democracy along modern lines as seen in Western countries and not an authoritarian mode of government as seen in Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Hong Kong or China. 

Mr Chuwit referred to this struggle on Saturday when he revealed that Mr Thaksin had changed tack.

Ung Ing strongly reaffirmed, on Saturday, that former PM Thaksin will return to Thailand on August 10th, dismissed Chuwut’s claims as ‘baseless’

Mr Chuwit suggested that the ex-premier may not have been serious about returning to Thailand in the first place.

His assertion came in the face of a statement on Saturday from ‘Ung Ing’ or Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of Mr Thaksin who is one of three prime ministerial nominees of the Pheu Thai Party and who has been touted as being favoured by General Prawit and his cohort of senators in the forthcoming parliamentary votes if put forward, this week, by an anonymous source claiming to be from the Pheu Thai Party, actively briefing the media. 

Ung Ing reaffirmed on Saturday that she believed her father would return on August 10th and described Mr Chuwit’s claims as ‘baseless’ in the strongest possible terms.

Mr Chuwit, also on Saturday, referred to the possibility of Mr Thaksin being granted a Royal Pardon on his first day in prison and pointed out that a Royal Pardon under such circumstances has never been granted except to offenders under Article 112 for lèse-majesté.

He claimed that those sentenced to prison for corruption or fraud had never been given a Royal Pardon at the commencement of a prison term and that this should have been evidence enough for Mr Thaksin to cancel his plans to return to Thailand indefinitely.

Chuwit questioned reports of a quick pardon

The wily Bangkok businessman, a former politician himself and who made his name and fortune as the operator of a massage parlour empire in the 80s and 90s, is himself no stranger to the prison system having been jailed several times over his business activities after protracted legal battles. 

Chuwit said he quite understood the denial of his claims by Ung Ing as she wanted to see her father return to Thailand as, like any good daughter, she wished to see him return to his home country and potentially be reunited with his family.

Ms Paetongtarn announced the return of her father on July 26th, his birthday in a social media post.

Mr Thaksin, who was Thai Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006 in what was seen by many in Thailand as a golden era for the economy and the fortunes of the poor, is now 74 years old.

Emotional message on social media by Paetongtarn Shinawatra on July 26th announcing Thaksin’s return on August 10th after fifteen years in exile

In her emotional message, Ung Ing wrote that she could scarcely believe what she was writing, and that her father would definitely return to Thailand on August 10th. 

Reports afterwards confirmed that preparations within the government, including within the Immigration Bureau for his arrest and the Department of Corrections for his incarceration were well advanced.

Mr Thaksin’s imminent return to Thailand has been a regular feature of news cycles since he left the country both at the time of the 2006 coup d’état and after August 2008 when he skipped bail on a visit to China to evade jail sentences which were subsequently handed down in a series of criminal trials. 

On July 31st 2008, he promised a Thai court that he would return on August 11th after attending the Olympic Games that year in Beijing where he was a guest of the Chinese government but later surfaced in the United Kingdom.

Thaksin faces up to 10 years in prison on three key charges which are still effective against him.

Thaksin faces 10 years in prison without parole and the possibility of further charges being brought against ex-PM by the anti-corruption commission

One relates to corruption linked with the lottery in Thailand for which he was sentenced to two years in prison.

Another relates to a ฿4 billion loan from the Export-Import Bank of Thailand (Exim) concerning his companies, Thaicom and Shin Corporation for which he was sentenced to three years.

And the third relates to his Shin Corp holding firm regarding the use of nominee shareholders and other abuses for which he was given terms of imprisonment of 5 years and 3 years.

All these sentences were specified as without parole. 

The latter is the last to be effective under Thailand’s particular statute of limitations provisions where prison sentences can also become ineffective if the accused is not brought before the courts, until July 30th, 2030.

Statute of limitations has expired on one charge

One conviction already expired on October 21st 2018 linked to the purchase of land in the Ratchadaphisek area of Bangkok, the first case brought against him.

However, despite all this, there are still ‘many’ potential charges to be brought against Mr Thaksin, according to a senior official at the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) this week.

Some of these relate to Mr Thaksin’s involvement in the procurement of aircraft for Thai Airways which was forced into bankruptcy in May 2020 but which has now made a spectacular recovery under a rescue plan approved by the courts.

Mr Thaksin has always claimed that the legal moves against him were politically motivated.

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Further reading:

Fears grow that Thaksin has become a pawn for conservatives to break the 8 party democratic pact

Prime Minister, business leaders oppose strategy to countdown the clock on the Senate’s power

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Former police chief and political leader says Move Forward must sacrifice itself for the country

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Pheu Thai to install Srettha as Prime Minister by forming a coalition pact with government parties

Pita suspended as an MP and loses renomination attempt in parliament as Senate blocks his path

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