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Despite proxy election victory, deposed Thai PM faces major hurdles in return to power

Despite proxy election victory, deposed Thai PM faces major hurdles in return to power

Judging from Thailand's national elections, deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will be welcomed with open arms by millions of his countrymen should he stage a return from exile.
But the populist billionaire, ousted in a military coup last year, would also face numerous hurdles, possibly insurmountable, if he attempts a comeback to political power.
This possibility emerged when the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party, or PPP, on Sunday captured nearly half the seats in the 480-member lower house of parliament and Thaksin announced he will "explore options" about returning home in April at the latest.
Speaking in Hong Kong on Tuesday, Thaksin said he wouldn't resume a political career but stood ready to advise the PPP, made up of stalwarts from his outlawed Thai Rak Thai party. The 58-year-old telecoms tycoon-turned-politician has announced such "retirements" before, only to re-enter the political fray.
"This is not going to be easy. There are many opponents," says Panithan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. "Still, I don't think Thaksin is thinking short-term."
First, Thaksin faces an array of charges related to alleged massive corruption during his six years in office, and he could be arrested when he lands in Bangkok. Then, a five-year ban on political activity imposed on him and 110 others from his party would have to be overturned.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, his enemies wield far more power than the rural masses he successfully wooed with cheap credit and health care and who endorsed his proxy party in the recent balloting.
These include the generals who overthrew him, elite bureaucrats and businessmen, the urban middle class and powerful figures in the Royal Palace like Privy Council head Prem Tinsulanonda, if not the greatly revered constitutional monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej himself.
Groups that led mass, anti-Thaksin protests in Bangkok, notably the People's Alliance for Democracy, are unlikely to stand still and watch him attempt a power grab. And the military could again lend its muscle.
"What he needs is for the PPP to unlock some of the legal doors in the next few years that would make it easier for him to return," Panithan said. "We have seen it happening with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela who returned after a few years with a popular mandate."
Should the PPP be able to form a ruling coalition government, and that is not yet certain, the party might accumulate enough political clout to change the rules of the game in Thaksin's favor.
Party leader and possible next prime minister Samak Sundaravej has said his government might dissolve the Asset Examination Committee that was set up to investigate corruption charges against Thaksin and might declare an amnesty for the 111 disqualified politicians, including the toppled leader.
Samak's rival for the premiership, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, has repeatedly said he would welcome Thaksin's return so justice could prevail.
Given Thaksin's popularity and presumably unquenched ambition, Abhisit could come to regret such words.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, another political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, predicts Thaksin's return would be "dramatic."
"He is a polarizing and divisive figure," Thitnan said. "The majority loves him, but a minority despises him. If he comes back, we will be divided and it would be a reckoning for Thailand as to what to do with Thaksin."
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Associated Press reporters Ambika Ahuja and Rungrawee C. Pinyorat in Bangkok and Cassie Biggs in Hong Kong contributed to this report.


Updated : 2020-12-05 11:30 GMT+08:00