Seth Mydans in the New York Times on Thaksin’s return:
Just doing a little shopping, taking a well-earned rest. What is everybody so worked up about?
And whoops! Wherever he goes, reporters seem to catch up with him. Almost every day, it seems, he is in the newspapers back home….
At one point last week, he ran playfully from reporters in a Hong Kong department store before turning to tell them, “I have no plan yet.”
Mr. Thaksin has “every right to return,” they say; he “shouldn’t come back at present”; it would be better for him to wait a year.
If he does suddenly decide to return, what will he do? What will the generals do?
The Bangkok Post in an article entitled “Thaksin: I will return to save the country soon”:
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra told his red-shirted supporters that he would soon return to Thailand to help settle the pressing problems of the country.
The declaration was made on Saturday afternoon…
Thaksin thanked the red-shirts for the party and told them to be patient and wait for his return.
Then a Reuters article on Thaksin’s hoping to return to Thailand by the end of the year after there is a general amnesty.
BP: Yes, the return of Thaksin has been featuring prominently in the papers in the last few days after his trip to Laos and Cambodia, but this is not new. Seth’s article is from 2006, the Bangkok Post article is from 2009, and the Reuters article is from 2011. Of course, after the election in 2011, Thaksin then stated that his return was not a major priority. Thaksin always talks about wanting to come home. He sometimes gives timetables and at other times just expresses a hope in returning. Thaksin’s latest statements are no different. While they have raised the impression of Thaksin’s imminent return, Thaksin has said slightly different things on different days. Grant Peck in AP:
Will he be celebrating the next Songkran at home?
Thaksin – by far Thailand’s most divisive politician – has said in the past few days that his return will be “in the next three to four months”, “not so long” and when “everything is stable”.
BP: That AP article was on April 15, but then on April 16 the Bangkok Post reports:
“Sure, I want to return home very much, but I want to come back when I can walk freely on the streets, not just sitting in a bulletproof car,” he said.
The former prime minister conceded he desired greatly to return to his homeland but said he needed to wait for a better atmosphere.
BP: That could be late this year or it could be next – although would say if not by the end of next year then something must have happened. Yingluck has declined to comment on the recent statements by Thaksin, but last month said that Thaksin was not returning home soon. The measures are not in place for Thaksin to return home. The Bangkok Post:
Meanwhile, Noppadon Pattama, Thaksin’s legal adviser, said it would not be an impossibility for the ruling Pheu Thai Party to help Thaksin return home by the end of the year.
He insisted, though, that Thaksin did not want to benefit from any provision in the amended constitution. In his opinion, the best way home for Thaksin is the reconciliation bill drafted by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung.
Mr Noppadon said the government deliberately put the reconciliation bill to parliament so that representatives of the people could freely debate the proposed legislation.
“The bill will be thoroughly reviewed by the House committee. The government would not use any dictatorial means to enact the law,” he said
The ruling Pheu Thai Party will not rush to pass an amnesty bill in order to avoid criticism, Pheu Thai party-list MP Prompong Nopparit said yesterday
Prompong said allegations the party would use its majority voice in Parliament to single-handedly pass an amnesty bill is false and it could be next year before such a bill was passed.
BP: The amnesty option (which would by a law passed through the legislature) seems to be to the fore while the pardon option seems to have fallen by the wayside – see posts here and here about Thaksin’s inclusion on a collection pardon last year. As noted at the end of that post:
A pardon would keep Thaksin out of jail for now, but it would allow the establishment to maintain control over Thaksin [because of the other legal cases against him]. For now, Thaksin is outside of Thailand so there is only so much control that they have over Thaksin. Hence, the pardon made sense as a compromise position. Chalerm has raised the amnesty option although there is is no timeframe for this. One cannot imagine that will go smoothly…
The Bangkok Post:
“A clever man like Thaksin will certainly play several cards at a time. He will have prepared several methods. Once he sees it is difficult to play the first two cards, he will have a third alternative,” said Mr Prinya.
According to Mr Prinya, the third alternative is Thaksin seeking a royal pardon for the two-year jail term he received in the Ratchadapisek land case.
If he obtained a royal pardon Thaksin would then return to Thailand to face the judicial process in four other cases that are still pending in the courts.
However, Thaksin might set the condition that if he is to be tried for the four other cases, all investigations carried out by the Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC) would have to be nullified and re-investigated by the National Anti-Corruption Commission or any group not hostile to him, Mr Prinya said.
The four other cases are the two- and three-digit lottery scheme, the Exim Bank loan for the Myanmar government, alleged irregularities in satellite concessions which allegedly favoured Shin Corp, and alleged assets concealment while he was in political office.
“This option could be the most acceptable to people who are politically neutral. Nobody would get everything they wanted, none would lose everything,” said the political analyst.
BP: None of the options for Thaksin’s return seems imminent. BP doesn’t see the inclusion of amnesty within the constitution as being likely. It is either a collective pardon (after the fuss last year it seems more difficult although as noted above it gives the establishment control over Thaksin unlike the slate being wiped clean with an amnesty) or an amnesty. The advantage of an amnesty if the government wanted to string it out and get the process right by following the KPI report would be a longer public discussion – say give it 6 months – then get parliament to vote on it and perhaps a referendum. This would be some form of a collective amnesty and while Thaksin is still popular, his return is not necessarily popular so the government may not want to proceed with a referendum. Nevertheless, that would provide the cleanest process. After the Interior Minister stated that public hearings would be a waste of time and just delay the process,* Puea Thai spokesperson Promphong stating today that they would not rush to pass the law. We will have to wait and see, but for now it seems there is no rush and hence Thaksin’s return is not imminent.
*This is not to say that substantatively public hearings would achieve anything. They are more for show. “Fred W. Riggs might say that public hearings in this country are just ritual, that is they give the appearance that Thai people have a right to participate but in fact the people’s input from the limited participation is not considered an issue in the decision-making process. The public hearings in Thailand in fact have been used for legitimizing the state decisions in that the public officials can say that they have followed the process prescribed by the law” (Page 5 of “Thai Public Hearings: Smokescreen or Ceremony?“). Nevertheless, going through the process will remove criticism over it being rushed and people not being consulted.