For Thailand's Thaksin, a warm yet wary welcome
The ousted Thai prime minister, who returned Thursday, faces corruption charges and a divided nation.
Exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand Thursday for the first time since a September 2006 coup. The move was a show of strength, two months after his allies won parliamentary elections.Skip to next paragraph
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About 4,000 jubilant supporters greeted Mr. Thaksin at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, where he emotionally knelt down and touched his forehead to the ground with his hands pressed together in a Buddhist wai, a prayer-like gesture. The former prime minister waved to the crowd before heading to the Supreme Court, which immediately granted him bail on two corruption charges, on the condition that he ask for permission before leaving the country.
"I left Thailand as a prime minister, but on my return, I am a suspect," Thaksin told reporters at a press conference later in the day.
"I want to prove myself and reclaim my reputation, which was destroyed in an unjustified and unfair manner," he added, vowing to stay away from politics.
The former leader,who had been splitting his time between London and Hong Kong, returns to a country still deeply polarized between the rural poor, who still see him as their champion, and Bangkok's richer citizens, who called for his ouster.
Though the victory of the pro-Thaksin People Power Party in December strengthened Thaksin's hand against the royalist generals who ousted him, analysts say he must not be seen as meddling with the judicial process and provoke more conflict.
"Within parliament, there will be stability, as it's dominated by the PPP, but outside, the threat of confrontation between anti-Thaksin and pro-Thaksin groups will linger for the next few years," says Somchai Pakpatwiwat, a professor at Bangkok's Thammasat University. "Tensions could be reduced if Thaksin appears to be submitting to the rule of law, but if he interferes with the courts, then trouble could escalate."
Though the generals leveled a slew of corruption allegations against him, evidence has been hard to come by. Thaksin was served arrest warrants for two cases. In one, he is alleged to have brokered a land deal for his wife at a reduced price; the other involves concealing assets in a firm listed on the Thai stock exchange.
Army-appointed investigators still plan to bring a number of other cases against the billionaire Thaksin, including several that claim he abused his power to enrich Shin Corp., the telecommunications firm upon which he built his fortune. In January 2006, Mr Thaksin's family sold the company to Singapore's Temasek Holdings for about $2 billion in a tax-free deal, sparking massive street protests that prompted him to call an early election a month later.