EMBATTLED former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother Thaksin, also a fugitive ex-PM, were spotted shopping in the streets Beijing, China late last week.
According to The Nation, the two were seen buying chestnuts in a small mall in Beijing ahead of the Chinese New Year celebrations, in a photo published on Matichon Online.
The Matichon Online photo was later joined by two other photos of Thaksin which were posted by his youngest daughter, Paetongtarn, on Instagram.
“My dad wishes all Thais a happy Chinese New Year from Beijing in advance. Although we are far away from each other, I always miss you, don’t you know?” she wrote on her Instagram account on Saturday.
In late August, Yingluck fled the country before a court read its verdict on a negligence of duty case related to her administration’s controversial rice-subsidy scheme. The following month, Yingluck was sentenced to five years’ jail over the case.
Both Yingluck and Thaksin were reportedly living in exile in the United Kingdom, where Thaksin runs a business.
— ThaiPBS English (@ThaiPBSEnglish) February 11, 2018
Thailand is divided broadly between those backing the Shinawatras and the old elites in the capital Bangkok.
Thaksin reshaped Thai politics after building a business empire, winning staunch support with populist policies that raised living standards, especially among the rural poor, and propelled him or his loyalists to victory in every election since 2001.
He was ousted by a military coup in 2006 and has lived in self-imposed exile since 2008. Graft cases were brought against Thaksin in 2008 and 2012, but had to be suspended until he returns to Thailand for trial.
Meanwhile, around 400 people gathered at a monument to democracy in the Thai capital on Saturday to urge the military government not to delay a national election planned later this year.
Elections to restore democracy have been postponed several times with November being the latest date set by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was appointed by a military-backed legislature following a coup against Yingluck’s administration in 2014.
But a change in the election law by Parliament last month means the date almost definitely will be pushed back to early 2019, something that has fanned growing discontent among groups who are calling for a swift return to civilian rule.
Authorities deployed fences around the Democracy Monument, forcing activists to gather only in the vicinity. Protesters held mock ballot boxes and signs saying: “Disgusted with dictatorship.”
“The NCPO should hold elections in November 2018, not move it to February 2019,” a representative for the demonstration who goes by his Facebook name of Sasiphat Siri told the crowd.
The junta is formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). “Mr. Prayuth, can you hear the people’s voices?” shouted another protestor.
On Friday, police issued arrest warrants for four activists. One was arrested on Saturday morning, while the other three showed up at the protest on Saturday.
Small anti-junta, pro-election protests that began earlier this year have gained momentum in recent weeks with a variety of activities staged by different groups every week. However, these have been mostly confined to the capital.
Earlier this week, the Puea Thai Party whose government was ousted in the 2014 coup, issued a statement defending the right of various groups to express their opinions peacefully.
In an open letter on Monday, the party’s secretary-general, Phumtham Wechayachai, said:
“Peaceful expression is the right of every citizen … I strongly disagree with the actions of the police and those in power to try to impose … charges against the groups.”
Political parties of all stripes have been urging the junta for months to lift a ban on campaigning and allow them to prepare for the general election.
But senior government figures have said the time was not yet right to lift the ban, prompting criticism from rights groups and politicians that the junta wants to delay the vote and prolong its time in power.
Parliament voted last month to extend the start date for a new election law by 90 days. The Bill lays out rules for lower house elections and is one of four bills that need to take effect before the vote.
The enactment date is critical in determining the election date as Thailand’s new constitution requires polls to take place within 150 days after electoral laws take effect.
On Thursday, 35 Thai activists reported to police to acknowledge charges brought against them after staging an anti-junta protest last month in downtown Bangkok.
Additional reporting by Reuters