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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Divisive Thai Ex-prime Minister Thaksin Returns From Exile as Party Seeks to Form New Government

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BANGKOK (AP) — Divisive ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand on Tuesday after years of self-imposed exile to face possible criminal penalties on the same day that a party affiliated with him plans to start forming a new government.

Thaksin has said his decision to return has nothing to do with an expected vote in Parliament later in the day on a candidate from the Pheu Thai party for prime minister. But many believe his arrival is connected to the party’s pursuit of power.

Thaksin flew from Singapore in his private jet and landed at Don Mueang International Airport around 9 a.m. local time. Thai broadcasters aired live footage of him walking out of the airport’s private jet terminal with his daughter, key Pheu Thai member Paetongtarn Shinawatra, and greeting his supporters.

After walking out, Thaksin placed a flower wreath and prostrated before a portrait of Thailand’s king and queen at the gate of the terminal.

Supporters of him gathered outside of the airport hours ahead of his arrival, donning red and holding signs with welcoming messages. Core members of the Pheu Thai party were also seen at the airport.

The 74-year-old billionaire promoted populist policies and used his telecommunications fortune to build his own Thai Rak Thai party and be elected prime minister in 2001 and easily reelected in 2005, before being ousted in a military coup in 2006 and fleeing into exile.

Thaksin was convicted in absentia in several criminal cases that he said were politically motivated, and he could face prison time unless he receives a royal pardon.

Pheu Thai is the latest in a string of parties affiliated with Thaksin. The military coup that ousted him triggered years of upheaval and division that pitted a mostly poor, rural majority in the north that supports Thaksin against royalists, the military, and their urban backers.

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