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Exiled Former Leader Thaksin Shinawatra Plans Return to Thailand Amid Post-Election Chaos

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Thaksin Shinawatra, a former Thai Prime Minister who has lived in self-imposed exile for 15 years, is set to return to the Southeast Asian nation next month, a move likely to add to the political chaos that’s gripped the country since a May general election.

Thaksin, who turned 74 on Wednesday, will arrive in Bangkok on Aug. 10, his youngest daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra, said in an Instagram post. She is among the three prime ministerial candidates of Pheu Thai Party, which Thaksin backs and is now leading the efforts of a pro-democracy coalition to form a new government and end a near decade-long military-backed rule.  

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It’s not the first time that Thaksin, a popular but polarizing politician, or his family has announced his return to the country where he was ousted as the premier in a military coup in 2006. As recently as in May when the nation was in the middle of an election campaign, he pledged to return before his birthday to raise his grandchildren.

But this time it may be different, Paetongtarn said, adding that her family was happy but also concerned about Thaksin’s plan.

The timing of Thaksin’s homecoming coincides with efforts by Pheu Thai to drum up support among the nation’s conservative Senate and pro-royalist political parties. They blocked Pita Limjaroenrat, the pro-democracy coalition’s first Prime Minister candidate, from assuming power.

The bloc has struggled to take power despite commanding a majority of lawmakers in the elected lower house as it faces the hurdle of reaching a majority threshold in a joint sitting of the bicameral assembly. The conservatives thwarted Pita, leader of the progressive Move Forward party that bagged the most seats in the election, citing opposition to his reformist platforms that include amendments to the country’s harsh royal insult law.

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Thaksin commands a large following among rural voters, and parties affiliated with him had won the most seats in every national vote between 2001 and 2019, only to be unseated from power by dissolutions or coups.  

Thaksin has lived overseas since fleeing the country in 2008 to avoid corruption charges, shuttling between Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, and London. Since leaving Thailand, he had been found guilty in absentia in several graft cases, and still faces a combined 10 years in prison in three cases upon his return. 

Thaksin says the cases against him were politically motivated, but has recently said he will enter the legal process upon his return. He has also denied reports that he was seeking an amnesty from jail terms — something previously attempted by a government headed by his sister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2013 before it was toppled in a 2014 coup

Paetongtarn, 36, may have a shot at being nominated for premiership once her party secures backing of enough lawmakers. Pheu Thai’s candidates also include property magnate Srettha Thavisin and former attorney-general Chaikasem Nitisiri. 

The party has not announced which of the three will be nominated in the next round, after a vote this week was called off pending a petition by the Office of the Ombudsman to the Constitutional Court on the legality of parliament last week rejecting Pita’s re-nomination.

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