Tuesday marked the end of an era in Thailand as the former premier ended his extended period in exile since 2008 and even before that, from 2006 on the same day as his political party saw its nominee elected as Thailand’s 30th Prime Minister. The kingdom’s most famous inmate, now housed at Bangkok Remand Prison, ended the day in a private room at a medical ward under 24-hour medical care as he began an eight-year prison sentence which many expect will be a lot shorter than that but, as the last 100 days since the May 14th General Election show, nothing is ever as predictable in Thailand as it is in other countries.
Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was airlifted from prison early on Wednesday morning to Police General Hospital in Bangkok after becoming ill just 12 hours after being admitted to the medical wing of Bangkok’s Remand Prison on Tuesday. The former PM is reported to have had difficulty sleeping and appeared to be suffering unease.
The news came through at 3 am and the incident was reported to have occurred at 12.30 am on Wednesday with Mr Thaksin suffering from high blood pressure according to the Governor of Bangkok Remand Prison Nastee Thongplad.
Tuesday was a historic day in Thailand which saw the imprisonment of one of the country’s greatest Prime Ministers, Thaksin Shinawatra, a divisive figure who had dominated the country’s politics for two decades.
Mr Thaksin was sent to prison on Tuesday morning by order of the Supreme Court to serve 8 years in respect of three finalised convictions and was later admitted to Bangkok Remand Prison where on Tuesday night he was reported to be staying in a monitored room at the medical wing of the establishment without air conditioning but with limited online connectivity to keep in touch with family and friends.
The former PM is now reported to be preparing to file a petition to Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn for a Royal pardon, a process which could take one to two months.
74-year-old Mr Thaksin arrived shortly after 9 am on a flight from Singapore on a private jet together with his son Panthongtae ‘Oak’ Shinawatra and other close members of the family.
He was met at the airport by his daughter and Pheu Thai Party prime ministerial nominee Paetongtarn Shinawatra.
Charismatic PM was, as always, dressed smartly as he made history on Tuesday. Acclaimed by supporters among the public, he paid homage to the King
The former prime minister, a charismatic figure, was dressed smartly in a blue suit with a white shirt and pink tie.
He greeted the crowds before he paid his respects by bowing and praying before a garlanded picture of the Thai monarch, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Thaksin was arrested as he emerged from his large private jet on the airport tarmac by Police Colonel Komwut Jong Boonwattana, the Superintendent of Immigration for Bangkok Airport Immigration Division Two.
Police Colonel Komwut executed several warrants against the former prime minister including three related to completed legal proceedings for which he had been sentenced to 10 years in prison and also, it was reported, two warrants in connection with offences under Article 112 of the Criminal Code which also specified various terrorism-related offences.
These latter two warrants were a surprise and we await further details.
Arrested as he got off the plane. Two surprise warrants related to alleged Article 112 and terrorism offences. Supporters cheered his motorcade to court
Mr Thaksin was taken quickly from the airport in a police motorcade to the Sanam Luang area of the capital where sparse crowds lined the route, some of them dressed in red shirts and showing their support for the former prime minister who was seen as the figurehead in the struggle against military rule in the kingdom since the September 2006 coup d’état which ousted him from power, up to this year’s General Election.
The election aftermath has seen the unlikely formation of a government coalition which sees the Pheu Thai Party, associated with Mr Thaksin, coalescing with parties linked with the military junta in a move which has alienated many of Mr Thaksin’s diehard supporters and left the party that won the May 14th General Election, Move Forward, in opposition.
The atmosphere at the airport on Tuesday morning was one of excitement with the hurly-burly of enthusiastic supporters among the public and a huge press contingent.
Thailand had waited 15 years to see this homecoming.
Tuesday’s return the real thing after 15 years
Mr Thaksin returned to Thailand in 2008, two years after the 2006 military coup, but Tuesday’s arrival was seen as a more historic and conclusive event, particularly given the old age of the political figure, his stated desire to be with his family and grandchildren and the need in the kingdom to see a resolution to the political division that has caused severe harm to Thailand’s economy since 2006.
Mr Thaksin appeared before the Supreme Court Criminal Division of Persons Holding Political Positions shortly after 10 am, during which details of the convictions against him were outlined to the hearing after Mr Thaksin had confirmed that he was the person identified in the three arrest warrants.
One of the convictions related to a loan provided to the government of Myanmar for ฿4 billion in 2004 by the Export-Import Bank of Thailand (Exim), a state-owned institution, when Thaksin was Prime Minister.
This money was subsequently used to purchase materials and equipment from Shin Satellite PLC, a company owned by Mr Thaksin and his family.
The prison term was three years in this case.
Two-year prison term for operating a national lottery without any legislation from 2003 to 2006 with five years for telecom franchises corruption case
The second, the court heard, was a prison sentence of two years against the former premier.
Mr Thaksin was convicted for operating a nationwide lottery from 2003 to 2006 without the support of appropriate legislation, which was considered a corruption offence and led to a subsequent conviction.
The most serious case related to granting telephone concessions to companies controlled by Mr Thaksin’s family Shin Corp, which were acts adjudged to be offences under the Organic Act for Counter-Corruption.
The conviction saw Thaksin receive a five-year prison sentence.
The court, on Tuesday, declared that Mr Thaksin should serve three years in total for the first two offences followed by the third term which would see the former government leader in prison for eight years.
Thaksin taken to Bangkok Remand Prison, he was admitted in time for lunch and ended up in the medical facility with a private room with no air con
At 10.40 am, Mr Thaksin’s motorcade was whisked inside Bangkok Remand Prison and he was taken through the prison admission process in which he passed through three different barriers leading to him being fingerprinted and having his photographs taken.
Reports from officers involved in the operation suggest that Mr Thaksin showed no sign of stress and talked politely with officials.
He was then taken to the medical facility at the prison where he was housed in a room within Zone Seven on the second floor of the building apart from other prisoners.
After his admission, Thaksin had been the subject of an extensive physical examination which together with documentation supplied by his doctors and medical institutions in Dubai, identified that the older prisoner suffered from four underlying medical health issues including heart disease, a lung ailment reported to be chronic pneumonia, high blood pressure and a condition known as spondylosis which involves the degeneration of the bones and discs near the spine area of the body.
Acting Minister of Justice Wissanu Krea-ngam in a reported visit to the prison as Corrections Department and ministry officials gave a press conference
During Mr Thaksin’s admission to prison and his arrival at the medical facility, it is understood that the acting Minister of Justice, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, visited the prison and brought with him documentation.
It is not yet clear whether the Justice Minister met personally with Mr Thaksin but there are reports that Mr Wissanu changed cars on his trip to the prison as a security precaution.
At 1.30 pm, officials from the Ministry of Justice together with officials within the Department of Corrections including the Director of the Corrections Department, Mr Ayut Sinthopphan, gave more extensive details on Mr Thaksin’s incarceration on Tuesday.
They confirmed that he was being housed in Zone Seven on the second floor of the medical building within Bangkok Remand Prison where inmates are supervised with CCTV cameras as well as round-the-clock monitoring by doctors and physicians.
No family visitors for five days but limited internet access as doctors at the prison medical facility made Thaksin’s health a priority as an inmate
Reporters were told that management at the prison was concerned that Mr Thaksin’s health was preserved and that he was receiving the appropriate care including accommodation.
The new inmate was also not required to cut his hair as is normally due to his senior status and the fact that his hair was short already. It was also reported that Thaksin continued to wear his white shirt and his own clothing.
Thaksin’s private room at the prison does not have air conditioning but did contain a few fans while an area had been reserved for him to meet visitors who are expected after an initial five-day period of medical screenings during which the former PM has limited online access through two or three popular apps to make contact with his family and friends.
Reporters heard that Thaksin took lunch at the prison on Tuesday but only ate some bread and drank some bottled water.
Dinner at the prison on Tuesday evening was to consist of boiled rice and vegetables.
Officials explained that Mr Thaksin would have access to the prison shop where he would have a daily allowance of between ฿500 and ฿600 to buy various products including food items forming a carefully selected range to offer a low sodium diet.
Reports of a possible change of hospital as Thaksin prepares to submit a petition for a Royal pardon a process that normally takes one to two months
On Tuesday, there were some reports that Mr Thaksin, at some point in the future, could be removed from the prison hospital to hospitals that are associated with the Corrections Department under the auspices of the Ministry for Public Health including the Police Hospital in Bangkok.
Sources also reported that Mr Thaksin is anxious to submit a petition seeking a royal pardon as soon as possible.
This normally takes a period of one to two months to be processed but can be made from the first day in prison in respect of fully finalised cases.
In the course of the press conference given by the Department of Corrections and the Ministry of Justice on Tuesday, it was explained that normally such applications are prepared by the prisoner and relatives before they are submitted by the prison to the Department of Corrections.
From hence, they are sent to the Ministry of Justice and then to the Privy Council before being considered by the King.
If refused, Thaksin must wait two more years
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, the acting Minister for Justice Mr Wissanu Krea-ngam explained that if Mr Thaksin’s individual request for a pardon is not approved, he would be prohibited from making a similar request for two years.
At the beginning of the day’s events, Mr Thaksin was seen off at Singapore’s Changi Airport by his sister and former Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who posted a poignant note after his plane had taken off for the Thai capital.
Ms Yingluck had accompanied Mr Thaksin to Singapore and it is believed, has lived in close proximity to her brother since she fled Thailand herself into exile in August 2017, some weeks before a court handed down a five-year prison sentence for her role in Thailand’s disastrous right pledging initiative, a signature policy of her government which was in power from 2011 to 2014.
Sad and poignant message from Thaksin’s beloved younger sister and Thailand’s first female PM after he flew from Singapore on his return to Thailand
‘Now the day you have been waiting for has come,’ Yingluck wrote in her message. ‘Throughout the 17 years, I know you have been lonely, unhappy and homesick. I believe it took you quite a long time to make this decision. You want to be with family and spend your life in your home country. I respect your strong determination. I will keep in my memory our trip together from Dubai until you departed on a plane back to Thailand.’
The former prime minister thanked her brother for his support during her six years in exile and noted that it was one of the first times in that period that they had not travelled together.
Ms Yingluck and Mr Thaksin were recently seen on trips to Hong Kong and Cambodia with both attending birthday celebrations for Cambodia’s former Prime Minister and strongman Hun Sen, a move that drew criticism from liberal political quarters in Thailand.
‘I wish you good luck and a safe journey. Do not forget to take care of your health. Do not worry about me. I will be strong and patient. I will look after myself, although I will be alone in a foreign land,’ Ms Yingluck said. ‘You have taken good care of me. I cannot help feeling sad because this is the first time we are not travelling together. Good luck my brother.’