Why did Thaksin Shinawatra return to Thailand and what will happen next? | Thailand

Thailand’s parliament has ended three months of political deadlock – hours after former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned from exile – by approving the appointment of real estate mogul Sritha Thavisin as prime minister.

Sritha will lead a controversial alliance between the Pheu Thai Party, the party Thaksin supports, and its historic rivals – parties linked to the generals who led the last coup in 2014.

Who is Thaksin and what happened today?

Thaksin is an influential and deeply polarizing politician who has dominated Thai politics for decades. He became Prime Minister in 2001 and developed a loyal base of support among rural voters in the North and North-East by introducing social and economic welfare policies to improve people’s livelihoods. But he was also accused of corruption and human rights abuses and was disliked by conservatives in Bangkok, who saw him as a threat to the monarchy.

Thaksin was overthrown in a coup in 2006 and has been living in self-imposed exile for more than 15 years to avoid legal charges.

But on Tuesday, he arrived on a private plane to Bangkok airport. Hundreds of supporters turned out to welcome him. He appeared in front of the media only briefly and was taken straight to court – and then to prison.

What is Thaksin’s relationship with the royal military establishment?

For decades, Thaksin was hated by the establishment, which viewed him as a corrupt, unscrupulous politician and a threat to the monarchy.

However, the two sides are now united in an unusual alliance. Although the new alliance may be shocking to the public, for politicians it was “essential realpolitik,” said Virapat Paryawong, a political analyst. “It is time for them to join hands for their common interests,” he added.

To be sure, the conservative establishment faces a much bigger problem than Thaksin’s. Instead, it is threatened by the rise of the youthful reformist Move Forward party, which won the most seats in the May general election after promising major changes to Thailand’s power structures. Move Forward vowed to reform the lese-majeste law, remove the military from politics, and dismantle big corporations. Some of its deputies are activists who were once on the front lines of protests against reforming the monarchy and have since been accused of undermining the King. He was prevented from seizing power by senators appointed by the military.

Move Forward’s growing popularity also poses a threat to Pheu Thai. In the May elections, the younger party surprised many by outperforming Pheu Thai, and even winning illegal seats in Chiang Mai, Thaksin’s stronghold.

Virapat said Thailand may be moving toward a new era, away from the divisions that shaped the past two decades, and “towards a new clash between the traditional establishment versus the Movement Forward Party and their supporters.”

Analysts speculate that given Thaksin’s return to Thailand with his party in power, a deal to mitigate his sentence is likely. His daughter, Paytungtarn Shinawatra, who is also running as one of the Pheu Thai party’s prime ministerial candidates, denied the claim, and said her father would return because he wanted to be with his grandchildren. In the past, he has said repeatedly that he wants to return home.

According to the Supreme Court, he faces an eight-year prison sentence.

What is the role of the unelected Senate in Thailand?

Thai election rules were rewritten after the 2014 coup to tip the regime in favor of military-linked candidates. To become prime minister, it is necessary to have the majority support of the House of Representatives which includes 500 elected deputies and 250 senators – unelected and appointed by the armed forces.

Although the Move Forward movement won the largest number of seats and the most votes in May, forming a coalition that gave it a majority among the elected representatives in the House of Representatives, this was not enough to outweigh the influence of the Senate.

Pheu Thai leaders said they had no choice but to cooperate with the military side, given the electoral rules.

What does Pheu Thai’s deal with the military mean for its future?

The deal has angered many Pheu Thai supporters, who say the party has abandoned the democratic values ​​it is supposed to stand for. Some point to the killing of more than 90 people during the army’s 2010 crackdown on protesters who took to the streets in support of Thaksin, and question how the party could support such an alliance.

The deal also angered the Movement’s Forward supporters, who voted in hopes of democratic reforms.

Some Pheu Thai supporters were more sympathetic, saying the party had few options. However, it is widely expected that Pheu Thai’s decision will mean losing the support of Move Forward, which will now present itself as the only real pro-democracy party.

Who is Sritha Thavisin?

Sritha, a 60-year-old real estate mogul, was voted Thailand’s next prime minister on Tuesday. Pheu Thai tried to emphasize his business credentials and present him as someone who could boost the economy. He has also been described by some analysts as a compromise candidate who might be acceptable to people on both sides of Thailand’s political divides.

However, he has never held a cabinet position, and will face the difficult task of leading a coalition that brings together unlikely partners.

Sritha was born into a wealthy family in Bangkok and worked for Procter & Gamble in Thailand before founding Sansiri, one of the country’s largest real estate developers. He is married to an anti-aging medicine expert, with whom he has three children.

Sritha became Pheu Thai’s chief advisor earlier this year, but has long been associated with the Shinawatra family. He opposed the movement that led to the overthrow of the government led by Yingluck, Thaksin’s younger sister, and was later described as one of the first businessmen to be recalled by the junta after the 2014 coup.

In recent weeks, Sritha has faced allegations regarding his business dealings, including allegations that he colluded to help a group of landowners evade a large tax bill. Sritha has denied these suggestions and is filing a lawsuit against the person who made the allegation.

Sritha said that if he took office, he would not seek to repeal or amend the lese majeste law, under which criticism of the monarchy can carry up to 15 years in prison. Instead, he says, he will focus on improving the economy and people’s livelihoods.

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