Thaksin Shinawatra

4 minute read
Alyssa Fetini

He was one of the country’s richest men and its most popular — and powerful — politician, but ever since Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006, he’s found life difficult. Exiled from Thailand, he’s had much of his fortune frozen and has faced allegations that his family unethically profited from the tax-free sale of its stake in the nation’s largest telecommunications group, as well as other accusations of corruption and abuses of power. On Oct. 21, Thailand’s Supreme Court found the former Prime Minister guilty of corruption, sentencing him to two years in prison on charges that he violated a conflict of interest law by allowing his wife to buy land from a government agency for a fraction of its estimated market value.

Thaksin, who was elected in 2001 and was reelected in 2005, lived outside the country from his ouster until February of this year; despite a triumphant return, he fled corruption charges in August and is currently residing in the UK. Prosecutors are now pushing for his extradition back to Thailand. For his part, Thaksin dismissed the verdict of the trial as politically motivated and appeared hopeful that he would be able to remain in the UK. “I want to be a prominent businessman in the UK if the British people will welcome me,” he said.

Quick Facts:

• Born July 26th, 1949 in Thailand’s Chiang Mai province. His father was involved in national politics until the late 1970’s.

• Remains the only person who has ever completed a full term as Prime Minster in Thailand.

• Began his career in the police force and briefly dabbled in the arts, marketing a popular romantic drama “Baan Sai Thong.”

• Married to Pojaman Damapong. The couple has three children: a son, Parthongtae, and two daughters, Praethongtarn and Pintongta.

• Amassed his multi-billion dollar fortune through telecommunications ventures and through his holdings in Internet, television and mobile phone networks.

• Founded the Thai Rak Thai (“Thais love Thais”) party in 1998, with a populist platform that appealed to rural villagers and farmers with a platform of job creation and universal health care.

• Elected Prime Minister in 2001 and reelected by a landslide in 2005.

• Joined President George W. Bush’s coalition during the invasion of Iraq.

• Came under fire over accusations that he gave preference to family members and friends for government jobs.

• While Thaksin was in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly meeting on September 19th, 2006, the army entered Bangkok, took control of the government buildings and state radio and television stations. Thaksin was forced to declare a state of emergency by phone from New York while the army declared martial law.

• Despite having his party dissolved and being barred from Thai politics for five years following the coup, Thaksin remains a powerful force in his home country. Recently deposed Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was elected on a platform that explicitly endorsed Thaksin’s policies; after he stepped down amid tumultuous antigovernment protests in Bangkok, Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, was appointed instead. Somchai has been forced to conduct business without access to the Prime Minister’s office, occupied by protesters who argue the current administration is merely a proxy for Thaksin himself.

• A longtime soccer fan, he bought the Manchester City Football club for $130 million in 2007; he sold it earlier this year to an Abu-Dhabi based company for over twice that amount.

Quotes about Thaksin:

“The defendant was a leader of government and should have acted with a good example to others, so the court decided not to suspend the sentence and decided to jail him for two years.” — Statement by Tonglor Chomngarm, head of the panel of judges, to the court during Thaksin’s trial

“Yes, I like him. Why wouldn’t I? I don’t know why others don’t.” — A 67 year old villager in At Samat, Thailand, on rural support for Thaksin

Quotes by Thaksin:

On his wife’s acquittal of corruption charges: “I’m very happy for her, but my wife has done nothing wrong and is not a politician.”

On the Second anniversary of the coup that removed him from power: “I will return to Thailand only when the time is right.”

On the verdict of the trial: “I’m a politician and after I was toppled by the coup it’s normal that they will try every means to justify it.”

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