Thaksin’s Chiang Mai return: Political marker laid down by Ex-PM. Thaksin’s visit to Chiang Mai signals his enduring political clout. Amidst tears and cheers, he reunites with supporters, hinting at a comeback. Despite health hurdles, his influence looms large, perhaps again reshaping Thailand’s political landscape.

The visit by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to his political stronghold of Chiang Mai this week has strengthened speculation on Thaksin’s continued involvement in political affairs in the kingdom. Accompanied by senior officials, ministers and even top policemen, the visit appeared to be a rallying call to the ex-PM’s former support base. The visit certainly confirmed that Mr Thaksin retains significant political power in the country. In truth, it is, additionally, a power that is growing and quite active.

Thaksin Shinawatra and his youngest daughter Paetongtarn, the leader of the Pheu Thai Party in Chiang Mai this week. The visit has signalled that Mr Thaksin remains a powerful force in Thai politics despite being a parolee, his ill health and his advanced years. The emotional trip saw many high-profile political players flock to the northern city to be seen with the man who has dominated Thai politics for over twenty years.

Red Shirts with tears in their eyes reunited with Thaksin Shinawatra at Rongtham Samakkhi Temple, San Kamphaeng District, Chiang Mai Province on Friday. It was the second day of Mr Thaksin’s return to his northern stronghold.

‘Happiness depends on family,’ Mr Thaksin, still wearing his neck splint, remarked to reporters in English. ‘Happiness is at home.’

He was later pictured both on Thursday and Friday, at times, without the neck splint.

A key facet of Thaksin’s legend in Thailand is his ability to speak English as well as his renowned rapport worldwide with key foreign leaders. 

Chiang Mai’s trip looked like a political comeback rather than a personal visit by an elderly parolee with various health issues. Certainly, it could be both

His trip to Chiang Mai is rapidly taking on the look of a political comeback for the former politician.

Mr Thaksin, now 74 years old, is still on parole after being released from hospital on February 18th.

This was articulated by Voice TV pundit and Human Rights Watch volunteer Sunai Phasuk. 

‘I think Thaksin wants to use Chiang Mai to rebuild a direct connection with supporters in the province by bypassing the party and MPs,’ he told the satellite and cable channel TV station while commenting on Friday’s warm reception from the public.

The TV station has long been associated with Mr Thaksin since it was first launched in 2010. His two daughters are key shareholders and directors.

Nonetheless, Mr Thaksin had to obtain special permission from his parole supervisors to make the trip to Chiang Mai.

Ex-PM did not spend one full night in prison

The former Thai Prime Minister returned to Thailand in August 2023. Despite being sentenced to eight years in prison, he did not spend a single night locked up.

On the night of his return, he was suddenly transferred to the Police General Hospital in Bangkok from a prison hospital ward. From there, he was released at the end of February on parole.

Ex-PM Thaksin finally returns home to his residence in Bangkok after 17 years away, released on parole
Thaksin helicoptered to Police Hospital at 3 am after feeling ill says the Department of Corrections

Certainly, his period as a parolee has been interesting.

Days after his release, he was visited by Cambodian strongman and leader Hun Sen. Afterwards, he was visited by parole board officers to be followed in turn by a visit from Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

Hun Sen’s visit to Thaksin in Bangkok signals that the ex-premier may not be retiring from politics as suggested

Meanwhile, Thaksin’s return to Chiang Mai had poignant moments. Unquestionably, this was a personal visit but also full of political meaning.

Emotionally charged visit to Chiang Mai by the man who has dominated Thai politics for over two decades. Thaksin undoubtedly was returning to his roots

In brief, it is Thai political history or theatre. The gathering on Friday, March 15, 2024, was quite emotional.

This saw supporters expressing their love and support for the former prime minister after a 17-year separation.

This was the man who had dominated Thai politics for over two decades. He was returning to his roots.

Accompanied by his family and friends including youngest daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra, he was seen visiting temples and recalling his past.

At a local market, one seller of a Thai snack called thong muan, a rolled wafer edible, was overjoyed.

‘I am ecstatic,’ she told reporters. Thaksin bought 10 packs from the woman.

It is this kind of personal touch that makes Thaksin such a legend to these people.

In short, they still remember his groundbreaking programmes from over twenty years ago. In particular, the ฿30 health coverage initiative.

His governments, at that time, appeared to lift the rural poor out of poverty.

Thaksin returned to the temple holding the ashes of his ancestors but significantly, not his mother and father. Pheu Thai political figures awaited him

Notably, Thaksin’s hometown district served as the backdrop for the long-awaited reunion of Thaksin with his ancestors.

Significantly, the ashes of the Shinawatra family, except for Thaksin’s father and mother, were stored there. 

Despite the absence of Thaksin’s parents, a large group of Red Shirts, led by Worachai Haem, a key Pheu Thai activist and government advisor, gathered to show their support.

Among them were other members of the Pheu Thai Party. In brief, they included Mr Nanat Hongchuwet, a party-list MP and former Pheu Thai Party MPs like Mr Sura Phon Kiatchaiyakorn and Police Sergeant Prasit Chaisua.

The atmosphere was charged with anticipation as Red Shirts held signs with messages of support, eagerly awaiting Thaksin’s arrival. 

However, there was some controversy at the same time. At length, an alternative Red Shirt event commemorated the bloody 2010 Bangkok crackdown. 

This was when Red Shirt protesters were forcibly controlled and dispersed by the military in the capital.

In short, the extended operation fourteen years ago saw a significant loss of life.

Thaksin avoided controversial protest at Chiang Mai University with a symbolic red coffin remembering the 2010 street protesters who died in a crackdown

A red coffin was displayed at Chiang Mai University on Friday. Markedly, it signified the deaths that occurred in Bangkok in the military crackdown. 

Nonetheless, the Thaksin motorcade was diverted from its path.

Later, as Thaksin and his family, including his younger brother Payap Shinawatra, approached, the crowd erupted with excitement.

Supporters rushed forward, presenting flowers and clamouring to take pictures with the previously exiled leader. Chants of ‘We love Thaksin’ echoed through the air as Thaksin, visibly moved by the warm reception, greeted the crowd.

For many Red Shirts, seeing Thaksin in person after 17 years evoked strong emotions.

Tears flowed freely as they embraced their leader, expressing their unwavering loyalty and support.

In brief, Thaksin, too, appeared touched by the heartfelt welcome. He acknowledged the overwhelming outpouring of affection from his supporters.

Thaksin remembered his deceased older sister. His absence from Chiang Mai for 17 years is testimony to a tumultuous political journey since the 2006 coup

Amidst the jubilant scenes, Thaksin took a moment to pay respects to his deceased relatives, including his eldest sister Yaowalak.

She passed away during his time abroad. The solemn gesture served as a touching reminder of the personal sacrifices made by Thaksin and his family. 

His political career because of the 2006 coup d’état has been a tumultuous journey.

Afterwards, Thaksin retreated with his family, including Mr Payap, to the Summit Green Valley Chiang Mai Country Club in Mae Rim District. 

The reunion, albeit brief, left a lasting impression on both Thaksin and his supporters.

Basically, it reaffirmed the bond between the former prime minister and the Red Shirt movement.

The significance of Thaksin’s return to Chiang Mai extends beyond the emotional reunion with his supporters.

Thailand’s politics still faces potential further turmoil

As a prominent figure in Thai politics, Thaksin’s presence carries weight, especially amidst potential political turmoil.

This is presently on the cards with the looming demise of the Move Forward Party, Thailand’s largest.

It’s all over for Move Forward, Thailand’s largest political party, after the Election Commission’s latest move

His return serves as a beacon of hope for Red Shirts. However, the political landscape changed both before and after the 2023 General Election.

Certainly, in its aftermath following the Move Forward Party’s resounding victory in the poll.

Subsequently, Pheu Thai joined an unpopular coalition to form the current government. At that time, many Red Shirt supporters nationwide publicly burned their shirts.

Indeed, many also burned effigies of Thaksin and his daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra.

Thaksin and Pheu Thai have burned their bridges with their national ‘family’ and loyal support base

At length, with the forthcoming dissolution of the Move Forward Party almost a certainty, the Pheu Thai Party and the Shinawatra family find themselves seen as part of a new establishment.

Political battles lie ahead for Pheu Thai and Thaksin seeking an active part in the affairs of the kingdom. He must also battle chronic health ailments

At the same time, a recent poll showed it retained 24.05% support among the electorate.

This is significant. It comes despite the anger towards the party after it jettisoned Move Forward last year. 

However, Thaksin’s return is not without its challenges.

The former PM is battling health issues, including three bouts of Covid-19 and a degenerative cervical spine condition. Significantly, this is the basis for his controversial neck splint.

Undoubtedly, Thaksin faces a precarious journey ahead. 

In the wake of Thaksin’s return, questions arise about his recent activities and their implications for Thailand’s political future.

As a convicted prisoner, he is now barred from holding political office. Nevertheless, his daughter is the leader of the Pheu Thai Party and tipped, at some time, for a cabinet post.

The former PM is still awaiting a decision from the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) on a potential prosecution.

In particular, an offence under Article 112 of the Criminal Code relating to lèse-majesté.

This is linked to an interview given to a newspaper in South Korea in 2015. 

Top political players flock to be seen with Thaksin

In short, this was related to comments made about the 2014 coup d’état. That military takeover removed the remnants of his sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government from power.

The May 2014 coup d’état paved the way for over nine years of rule by General Prayut Chan Ocha.

Thaksin hit with a bombshell as the police pursue a lèse-majesté criminal charge against him from 2016

Thaksin’s influence could be seen by his dinner table on Friday. In short, it was attended by his brother-in-law, former Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat (2008) and the current PM Srettha Thavisin.

Also in attendance at the Summit Green Valley Golf Course were Agriculture Minister Thamanat Prompow of the Palang Pracharat Party and Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat.

Others who met Thaksin during his trip include the currently embattled top cop, Deputy National Police Chief Surachate Hakparn.

Afterwards, Thaksin promised his supporters that he would return to visit Chiang Mai on an annual basis.

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Further reading:

Hun Sen visit to Thaksin in Bangkok signals that the ex-premier may not be retiring from politics as suggested

Ex-PM Thaksin finally returns home to his residence in Bangkok after 17 years away, released on parole

Thaksin on the verge of returning home to his family after early prison release has now been approved

Ex PM Thaksin hit with a bombshell as police pursue lèse-majesté criminal charge against him from 2016

Thaksin can serve the rest of his prison term at home says Deputy Prime Minister Somsak Thepsutin

Former PM Thaksin up for release on October 13th as his prison status becomes more controversial

Mr Thaksin helicoptered to Police Hospital at 3am after feeling ill says Department of Corrections

Police worry for Thaksin’s safety on Tuesday after he lands at Don Mueang

Fears of political betrayal abound as Thaksin plans to touchdown at Don Mueang Airport on Tuesday

Thaksin and Pheu Thai have burned their bridges with its national ‘family’ and loyal support base