Thaksin's release won't unite citizens

Thaksin's release won't unite citizens

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra leaves hospital after being granted parole in Bangkok on Sunday. REUTERS
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra leaves hospital after being granted parole in Bangkok on Sunday. REUTERS

Convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was released on parole yesterday as widely anticipated.

The prospect that the police might book him on a lese majeste charge concerning a statement he made in Seoul in 2015 during an interview with the media there did not materialise. It would be unthinkable that the police would dare to block his release.

The lese majeste case, initiated by the army, is still pending with the attorney-general who is yet to finalise whether Thaksin will be indicted after the former prime minister appealed for justice.

The police had seven days before his release on Sunday to notify the Corrections Department about their wish to detain him on a lese majeste charge. But they didn't.

There is no question that Thaksin is a VVIP prisoner. The ex-premier was supposed to spend eight years in prison on three convictions after his return to Thailand.

But he was granted a royal pardon which cut his jail term to one year, citing his previous good deeds toward the country and his loyalty to the monarchy.

Thereafter, he was granted parole due to his old age, 74 years, and his poor health, certified by doctors at Police General Hospital.

From day one of his homecoming on Aug 22 last year, he was sent to Bangkok Remand Prison to serve his time, like most elderly convicts.

But in reality, he was not physically put behind bars and forced to cut his hair short like other prisoners. Nor was he forced to wear a prisoner's uniform.

On the same night, he fell mysteriously ill sick and was rushed to Police General Hospital, where he was kept on the 14th floor, out of sight, until his discharge on Sunday.

The VVIP treatment conceded to Thaksin constitutes the ultimate double standard which is a norm rather than an exception in this country.

It further reinforces the cynicism that prison is not meant for the super-rich, but for average people like you and me and, of course, for the poor who can't afford the legal fees.

The case of Thaksin is not an isolated case of judicial discrimination in Thailand.

Red Bull scion Vorayuth Yoovidhya is another specimen of a super-rich kid who is beyond the reach of the law. To date, Thai authorities have been unable to locate his whereabouts.

But is it Thaksin's fault alone that he was given such privileges as to make the justice system look like a joke? I don't think so.

From Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, Justice Minister Tawee Sodsong, down to the Corrections Department and Police General Hospital, all should take the blame for undermining the credibility of the justice system to that of a failed state.

Even the former administration of prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha which was acting as caretaker government at the time of Thaksin's return from exile was accused of being an accomplice in the "sweet deal" granted to the former prime minister which convinced him to return.

A supporter stands outside Thaksin Shinawatra's family compound after he returns home from hospital yesterday.

Thaksin's homecoming will not help solving or easing the political divide in this country because today's political conflict no longer revolves around him as manifested by the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps which are now fragmented and leaderless.

Today's conflict is driven by the views held by progressive and new-generation people who yearn for change on the one hand, including reform of the revered institution, versus conservatives on the opposite on the other.

Thaksin was a political magnet and an influential political figure. But that was 15 years ago. The political landscape has changed with the emergence of the now-defunct Future Forward Party and its successor, the Move Forward Party, which posed a real threat to the Pheu Thai Party's dominance as seen in the May 14 election.

Pheu Thai was routed in Bangkok, Chiang Mai -- hometown of Thaksin -- and elsewhere by the Move Forward Party.

Pheu Thai's popularity is declining, especially among younger Thais. The party's heavyweights are mostly ageing people and the party lacks new ideas which are in sync with youth and white-collar workers.

It is questionable that Thaksin will be able to rejuvenate the party and restore its old glory. Moreover, his return to active politics may ignite a political conflict and concerns about the revival of the feared "Thaksin regime".

Thaksin's brush with the law is not over yet. The lese majeste case is still pending with the attorney-general.

The attorney-general has three options.

One is to drop the case; the second is to confirm his indictment as decided by one of his predecessors back in 2016; and the third is to instruct the police to gather more information.

Given the royal pardon granted to Thaksin that shortened his imprisonment from eight years to only one, citing his good deeds to the country and his loyalty to the monarchy, the chances that he will be indicted appear slim.

Hence, he is reunited with his family and grandchildren in peace, albeit with a low profile to corroborate the medical diagnosis by doctors at Police General Hospital that his health is unstable and can fluctuate from good to bad and vice versa.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, 'Bangkok Post'.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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