TOKYO: Fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra says he is ready to serve his prison term in Thailand provided he is allowed to spend the rest of his life with his family, regardless of the results of the coming election.
Speaking in an interview with Kyodo News during a trip to Tokyo, Thaksin said he was biding his time before possibly returning to Thailand this year, following years of living in self-exile abroad. He was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and left the country in 2008 before being sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for conflict of interest.
“Now I’ve served 16 years already in the big jail because they prevent me from staying with my family,” said Thaksin, now 73, referring to his life away from his home country.
“I’ve suffered enough. If I were to suffer again in a smaller jail, it is OK.
“It is not really the price I need to pay but I will pay, because I want to stay with my grandchildren. I should spend the rest of my life with my children and my grandchildren.”
The populist billionaire, who served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, expressed confidence that the Pheu Thai Party will win the May 14 election by achieving a majority in the lower house.
His youngest daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, is expected to be one of three prime ministerial candidates from the party.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha dissolved the lower house on March 20 to pave the way for the election. The former coup leader, who first came to power in 2014 by toppling a Pheu Thai government led by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck, has also announced his bid to remain premier after the election.
The billionaire founder of Advanced Info Service and Thaicom, among other companies, left the country in August 2008 before the Supreme Court sentenced him in absentia to two years in jail for a conflict-of-interest conviction related to a land sale.
The fugitive former prime minister said he is not angling for an amnesty from parliament even if Pheu Thai Party comes to power.
“I told my daughter not to allow the party to push for issuance of the amnesty law for me,” he said. “I do not need that as those against me will not be happy.”
Thaksin also claimed that returning home to serve time will not be a betrayal of his supporters who have been fighting on his behalf by voting for pro-Thaksin parties and staging mass rallies.
“This is not because I accept that I did something wrong,” Thaksin said, blaming instead a system he considers prejudiced against him.
Thaksin predicted that in the election, Pheu Thai will capture at least half of the 500 seats contested, and maybe as many as 310, because people are tired of years of rule under Gen Prayut.
The former prime minister said that even if Pheu Thai wins the election, it still needs to form a coalition with other parties. But he only saw a remote chance for Pheu Thai to join forces with its political foes, such as the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party.
“It will probably be the last choice, not the first choice.”
Thaksin said his daughter Paetongtarn is ready for political life as she has learned about politics from him since she was young. He predicted she will make a better premier than he was.
“She is probably better than me,” he said. “She is more calm, more patient than me, I think. And she is very knowledgeable.”
Paetongtarn, a mother of one and currently expecting a second child, has been consistently the most favored prime ministerial candidate in opinion polls.