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Thai ex-PM Thaksin returns home from police hospital

By AFP - Feb 18,2024 - Last updated at Feb 18,2024

BANGKOK — Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra arrived back at his Bangkok home from police hospital early Sunday, just six months after his dramatic return to the kingdom from 15 years of self-imposed exile.

The controversial billionaire, twice elected premier and ousted in a 2006 military coup, was jailed for eight years on graft and abuse-of-power charges upon his return in August.

But his sentence was cut to one year by King Maha Vajiralongkorn within days of his return and the government said last week the 74-year-old was eligible for early release because of his age and health. 

Thaksin — wearing a neck brace and sitting next to his daughters Paetongtarn and Pintongta — was driven away Sunday from the police hospital in central Bangkok where he has spent the last half year. 

A handful of people protesting his release had gathered in front of the hospital.

The car then drove to Thaksin’s home, where a welcome-home banner was tied across the gates. 

The exact details of his release are not clear, but Thaksin may be subject to monitoring — possibly with an ankle tag — and restrictions on his right to travel. 

The former Manchester City owner’s arrival in Thailand came on the same day his Pheu Thai party returned to government in alliance with pro-military parties, leading many to conclude that a backroom deal had been struck to cut his jail time.

The rumours grew stronger when he was transferred to a police hospital within hours of being sentenced because of his poor health.

He was reportedly suffering from chest tightness and high blood pressure when he was admitted to hospital, and his family have said he underwent two operations in the following months.

The government has denied any deal and Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, of the Pheu Thai party, has insisted “he already served his jail time” — although it is not clear that Thaksin has spent any time in a prison cell.

 

Power tussle 

 

The former telecoms tycoon is one of the most influential but divisive figures in modern Thai history.

Thaksin is loved by millions of rural Thais for his populist policies in the early 2000s but has long been opposed by the country’s royalist and pro-military establishment.

The tussle for dominance between the establishment and Thaksin and his allies has largely defined Thai politics over the past two decades.

Police laid lese-majeste charges against him last week over comments he made in South Korea almost a decade ago, although it is not clear whether prosecutors will take the case to court.

His critics suspected him of pulling strings in the kingdom even from exile, which he spent mostly in Dubai before his return.

Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected prime minister for Pheu Thai in 2011, only to be ousted in a coup herself in 2014.

His daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra, now the party’s chief, was one of the leading faces in its campaign for last year’s general election and has been tipped as a possible future prime minister.

The election last May marked the first time in more than 20 years that a Thaksin-linked party failed to win the most seats in parliament.

Pheu Thai was beaten into second place by the upstart progressive Move Forward Party (MFP). But pro-establishment forces in the senate blocked MFP’s leader Pita Limjaroenrat from becoming prime minister, and Pheu Thai’s deal with military-linked parties then shut the newcomers out of government.

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