Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand after 15 years in exile, serving a reduced jail sentence. This move has damaged the Pheu Thai Party’s reputation and may benefit the opposition Move Forward Party in the long run.
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Returns from Exile
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has returned to Thailand after 15 years in self-exile. However, his return was not without consequences, as he was immediately taken into custody to serve out a sentence for previous corruption convictions. Despite this, Thaksin submitted a request for a royal pardon, which was granted, reducing his jail sentence from eight years to one.
The Conditions for Thaksin’s Return
Thaksin’s desire to return to Thailand was well-known, with over twenty previous attempts. Interestingly, his return was made possible by the Move Forward Party’s loss in the recent general election. The party’s proposals to reform Thailand’s monarchy and military rendered its presence in the government unacceptable to the conservative establishment. As a result, Thaksin’s affiliated Pheu Thai Party became a necessary partner to keep Move Forward out of power.
The Political Fallout of Thaksin’s Return
While Thaksin received lenient treatment, the Pheu Thai Party now faces several challenges. Its coalition with other parties means it must contend with veto players, and it had to grant powerful ministries to parties aligned with the former government. Additionally, Pheu Thai’s reputation as a pro-democracy party has been tarnished, leaving its future electoral success in doubt. Conservative voters who oppose Thaksin are unlikely to support Pheu Thai, while progressive voters no longer see it as a credible option for reform.
The Impact on Thai Politics
Pheu Thai hopes to retain support through populist promises, such as providing digital money to citizens. However, it is uncertain if this will win over disaffected voters. Meanwhile, the Move Forward Party, which remained unaffected by political dealmaking, is likely to maintain its popularity in opposition. Although bringing Thaksin back was intended to counter progressivism, it has damaged the Pheu Thai brand. Even Thaksin’s influence may not be enough to stem the tide of this new force in Thai politics.
Author: Mathis Lohatepanont, University of Michigan
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