• Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who returned from exile last year, will be released from prison after the country’s Justice Minister granted him conditional release.
  • Thaksin’s possible parole marks a step towards reconciliation between his populist political party and the conservative establishment.
  • Thaksin qualified for early release because of his age and health, officials say.

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who last year returned from more than a decade of self-imposed exile to serve a prison sentence for crimes committed while in office, was granted parole and could be released this weekend. week, the country’s Justice Minister announced on Tuesday. .

Parole for Thaksin would be a symbol of reconciliation between his populist political party and the country’s conservative establishment, a rivalry that defined Thai politics for nearly 20 years and led to two military coups.

Justice Minister Tawee Sodsong told reporters before the weekly Cabinet meeting in Bangkok that Thaksin qualified for early release because he is in the eligible category of inmates who are seriously ill, disabled or over 70 years old. Thaksin is 74 years old.

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Tawee did not confirm the date Thaksin will be released, but it is hoped he could be released as soon as this weekend.

Thaksin Shinawatra speaks

Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra greets supporters as he arrives at Don Muang airport in Bangkok, Thailand, Aug. 22, 2023. Shinawatra, who last year returned from more than a decade of self-imposed exile to serve a prison sentence for misdeeds committed while in office, has been granted parole and could be released this weekend. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn, File)

He is currently confined in a police hospital in Bangkok, where he is serving time for convictions related to corruption and abuse of power while in office, convictions that he denounced as being politically motivated.

His opponents have claimed that serving his sentence in a hospital was a special privilege, suggesting it was part of a political deal between his party and the military.

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Thaksin had been in exile since 2008, but voluntarily returned to Thailand in August last year and reported to prison to begin serving an eight-year sentence. He returned to his homeland on the same day that Srettha Thavisin of the Thaksin-backed Pheu Thai party won the Prime Minister’s post with the support of military-linked parties.

He was almost immediately taken to hospital for reasons of ill health and about a week later, King Maha Vajiralongkorn reduced his sentence to a single year.

Thaksin, a telecommunications billionaire who used his fortune to build a populist political party, was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, when he was overthrown in a military coup.

He fled the country in 2008 to avoid arrest, but his allies remained a major force in Thai politics. Her sister led the country from 2011 to 2014, when she left office weeks before another coup that installed a military government that held power until last year’s elections.

Srettha told reporters after the Cabinet meeting that Thaksin’s parole is in line with Department of Corrections rules as he has already served his sentence. Srettha praised Thaksin as “one of the most popular prime ministers in Thai political history” and someone who has long worked for the good of the country.

Srettha represents the Pheu Thai party, the latest incarnation of the party that Thaksin founded as Thai Rak Thai, and of which he is still considered the de facto leader.

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Thaksin has not yet overcome all legal obstacles. Thai officials said last week they had reopened an investigation into allegations of defamation of the monarchy made against Thaksin nearly nine years ago. If the Attorney General’s Office decides to charge him, Thaksin could be detained again as soon as he is released.

Thaksin’s daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, who heads the Pheu Thai party, told reporters last week that she had prepared her residence in Bangkok in anticipation of his release.

Military-backed parties performed poorly in last year’s general election, and Thailand’s royalist conservative establishment was believed to have favored reconciliation with Thaksin’s political machine to keep the more progressive Move Forward party out of power.

Moved Forward came first in the polls, but was prevented from assuming power when members of the military-appointed Senate refused to approve its candidate for prime minister.

By Sam