thaksin’s thai trial

Posted on June 18, 2007


Deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is mad and he is fighting back.

And he will soon be making a bold, even risky, move.

Thaksin said he would go back to Thailand to fight a case that the military government, which ousted him in a coup last September, will soon be filing against him. The government has charged Thaksin and his wife for their involvement in buying land from the central bank. Bloomberg reports that the specific charge involves the violation of an anti-corruption law that bans a spouse from entering into contracts with government departments under their spouse’s direct supervision. Their case involved the alleged purchase in 2003 of land from the central bank’s Financial Institutional Development Fund for 772 million baht ($22.4 million) by Thaksin’s wife, it adds.

Thaksin has been living in exile London since his ouster. But he has been keeping a high profile, from attempting to buy a UK football club, to addressing his supporters in Thailand last week through a video-conference link, when he lashed out against the military government. His latest action was prompted by the freezing of around $1.5 billion of his assets by the Thai government.

Thaksin still has considerable popular support, especially from Thais in rural areas. Many had benefited from the populist measures that he enacted during his time in government, such as offering micro credit plans to the poor to start businesses.

Tens of thousands had recently braved possible arrests and crackdown by the ruling military junta by turning up at rallies decrying the government’s action against the political party Thai Rak Thai, which is led by Thaksin. A Thai court had ordered that Thai Rak Thai be dissolved for election law violations and barred its leadership of 111 people, including Thaksin, from public office for five years.

The military government had said that they would be willing to negotiate with Thaksin about his assets, with an eye shrewdly on appeasing the large numbers of supporters the deposed leader still commands.

Thaksin’s return to Thailand to face trial could prove a two-edged sword. On the one hand, there is a strong possibility of his being detained, with all his and his family’s assets frozen and being powerless to leave the country.

However, there is also a likelihood of Thaksin and his advisers recognizing the still considerable support he has playing to his favor. Don’t be surprised if they are making a calculated move to rally more people to him with his return, and even possibly stage a comeback.

Thaksin might have promised to quit politics and asked the military to “let me live peacefully, like someone with dignity.” But provoked to fight, and with public sentiment souring considerably against the military junta in recent weeks, he might just be tempted to capitalize on it.