Thai King Commutes Former PM Thaksin’s Jail Term to One Year

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn commuted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s jail term to one year within days of the former leader returning to the country from 15 years of self-imposed exile.

(Bloomberg) — Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn commuted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s jail term to one year within days of the former leader returning to the country from 15 years of self-imposed exile. 

The royal pardon for Thaksin, 74, came after the two-time premier moved a petition earlier this week seeking clemency from serving an eight-year jail term. Though he was sent to a prison in Bangkok upon his arrival on Aug. 22, the former leader was soon after moved to a police hospital due to chest pain and high blood pressure. 

For now, Thaksin will remain in the hospital and will return to jail once he recovers, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-Ngam told reporters on Friday.  

The former leader fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid corruption charges after he was ousted in a 2006 military coup. He was found guilty in four graft cases in absentia with three of the convictions still outstanding during his return. 

Thaksin’s homecoming was seen as part of a deal with the military establishment that has repeatedly ousted his family and political allies over the past two decades. Hours after his return, Srettha Thavisin, a nominee of the coalition headed by Pheu Thai Party, effectively helmed by Thaksin, was elected as Thailand’s new prime minister. 

Read More: Why Thaksin Made Peace With Thai Establishment Foes: QuickTake

The clemency confirms Thaksin had sealed deals with the establishment before his return and it also paves the way for him to play a greater role in Thai politics, said Punchada Sirivunnabood, an associate professor at Thailand’s Mahidol University.  

Politics Again

“Thaksin will likely serve the jail term in a hospital and then get involved in politics again,” Punchada said. “But Thaksin has to be more careful now. Any misstep could mean Pheu Thai and Thaksin may not be able to come back from it, due to the rise of Move Forward Party.” 

Thaksin’s return marked a full-circle moment in Thailand’s political drama, which has seen a cycle of coups and deadly street protests erode the nation’s competitiveness as a manufacturing destination. Much of this was due to a conflict between the Shinawatra clan and the royalist establishment, which had seen the family as a threat to its political power.

A former telecom billionaire, Thaksin first rose to power in 2001 after pledging to revive Thai growth in the wake of the Asian financial crisis and help poorer citizens with cheap healthcare and debt relief measures. Political parties affiliated with Thaksin had won the most parliamentary seats in four successive elections from 2001 to 2019, but Pheu Thai this year placed second.

The party cobbled together a coalition with pro-military and royalist parties it had previously opposed after this year’s surprise election winner Move Forward Party, led by Pita Limjaroenrat, was blocked from taking power by influential senators opposed to its bid to amend the controversial royal insult law. 

Guilt, Remorse

In his plea for a pardon, Thaksin admitted to his wrongdoings and expressed remorse for his actions, according to a document published in the Royal Gazette on Friday. The plea also cited his old age and health conditions, his loyalty to the monarchy and respect for the judicial process. 

The king “graciously granted forgiveness” in commuting Thaksin’s sentences so the former leader can “use his knowledge, abilities and experience to help and benefit the nation, society, and people in the future,” according to the royal pardon decree countersigned by outgoing premier Prayuth Chan-Ocha. King Vajiralongkorn has the power to pardon any criminals. 

Earlier this week, Srettha, Thailand’s first new prime minister in nine years, said his cabinet is ready to assume power in the coming days. But the former property tycoon might soon struggle to wield authority with Thaksin’s shadow looming over him, Punchada said. 

“The party is Thaksin’s and the lawmakers answer to him, leaving the new prime minister to struggle with his autonomy and dignity,” she said. “Can Srettha defy Thaksin’s orders? And if he does follow, it may unleash yet another political crisis much like we have seen before.” 

–With assistance from Suttinee Yuvejwattana.

(Updates with details throughout, adds analyst’s comment from sixth paragraph.)

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