Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand who was ousted in a military coup in 2006, returned to his homeland on Tuesday for the first time in more than 15 years. He arrived at Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport by private jet with his three children, including his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, who also served as prime minister until she was removed by another coup in 2014.
Thaksin, who has been living in Dubai since fleeing Thailand in 2008 to avoid a corruption conviction, greeted hundreds of his supporters who gathered outside the airport wearing red and holding signs with welcoming messages. He also paid respect to a portrait of Thailand’s king and queen at the gate of the terminal.
Thaksin, 74, is the founder and leader of a political dynasty that has dominated Thai politics for the past two decades with its populist policies that appealed to the rural and working class majority. His return coincided with an expected parliament vote for a new prime minister, with lawmakers hoping to break a political deadlock more than three months after elections were won by a progressive party that has been stymied by the kingdom’s political elites.
The Thaksin-backed Pheu Thai party, which came second in the May election, nominated its choice for the country’s next leader on Tuesday: real estate mogul Srettha Thavisin. In a stunning about-face, Pheu Thai struck a deal with its former military rivals in a bid to secure enough parliamentary votes to form a government. The move also subverted the will of millions of Thais who voted overwhelmingly for progressive parties in the May election, delivering a powerful rebuke to the country’s military-backed establishment that has ruled Thailand since the coup.
Thaksin’s convoy left the airport and arrived at the Supreme Court about an hour later, where he faced possible criminal penalties for several cases that he said were politically motivated. He could face up to 10 years in prison unless he receives a royal pardon. His supporters expressed hope that he would be able to clear his name and restore democracy in Thailand.