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Critics fear deposed Thai PM Thaksin plotting to retake power after return from exile

Critics fear deposed Thai PM Thaksin plotting to retake power after return from exile

Deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has returned from exile to a rousing welcome in what critics fear is his first step toward regaining power, despite corruption charges that could put him behind bars and his vow to renounce politics forever.
The 58-year-old billionaire, with tears in his eyes and forehead pressed to the ground, was given a hero's welcome by thousands of supporters after he landed Thursday at Bangkok's international airport to end 17 months of exile.
Within two hours he was out on bail in two separate court cases, and later told a news conference that he had "come back to restore my reputation and fight for justice in court" after being ousted in a military coup.
"I don't want to be involved in politics any longer. I want to live peacefully with my family and die in this motherland," Thaksin said, adding that he would devote his time to charity and sports development.
But opponents said Thaksin is plotting a comeback, a move that could spark the same mass demonstrations and deep political divisions which preceded his ouster on Sept. 19, 2006.
"Nobody believes that Thaksin is pulling out of politics because what he is doing is a political game he has been playing all along from behind the scenes," said former Bangkok Governor and one-time Thaksin mentor Chamlong Srimuang. "Thaksin will plunge the country into a greater crisis that people will not be able to tolerate any longer."
Just hours after his arrival, Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee announced that the government would consult Thaksin, who is legally banned from all political activity for five years, for economic advice.
Although Thaksin's fate still hangs in the balance, his return was a triumphant re-entry to the center stage of Thai politics despite efforts by the country's most powerful institutions, including the military, to eradicate his legacy and keep him at bay.
"He's in the back seat but he is still driving the car," said former Senator and activist Jon Ungpakorn.
Thaksin could face a total of up to 15 years in jail in alleged corruption, conflict of interest and share concealment cases lodged against him since the bloodless coup.
But some believe he will win acquittal.
"The pressure he will put on the judiciary will be unbearable," said Kraisak Choonhavan, a member of Parliament with the opposition Democrat party. He noted a 2001 case in which Thaksin, amid bribery allegations, was cleared in an 8-7 decision by judges on charges he failed to declare all his wealth as required of Thai politicians.
Thaksin enjoys strong support among rural people and the urban poor, who appreciated his financial and social welfare policies.
But he is deeply resented by the Bangkok elite, the military and people associated with the monarchy for his autocratic ways and alleged massive corruption under his rule.
Jon, the former senator, said Thaksin might not return as prime minister, but could run things behind the scenes like Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, who retired years ago but still has great influence there.


Updated : 2021-03-01 08:45 GMT+08:00