Thailand’s Ex-PM Thaksin Returns From Exile As Parliament Prepares To Vote For Next Premier

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Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire and former prime minister of Thailand, finally returned to his home country on Tuesday, after more than a decade of living overseas in self-exile. His return, which had been widely anticipated, coincides with a scheduled vote the same day by Thailand’s parliament to select a new premier.

Upon his arrival at Don Muang airport on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thaksin was greeted by hundreds of supporters and throngs of reporters. Thai police said earlier that the 74-year-old former leader would be formally arrested and taken directly to the nation’s Supreme Court.

Thaksin was ousted from power in a bloodless military coup in 2006. Two years later, he fled the country to avoid spending up to 10 years in prison on multiple charges of corruption and abuse of power.

Despite his absence, Thaksin’s family has continued to be involved in Thai politics. His sister Yingluck also served as prime minister before fleeing the country in 2017 to escape arrest over a rice subsidy scheme. Thaksin’s youngest daughter Paetongtarn currently holds a senior position in the Pheu Thai Party, which was the second-biggest winner in May’s national election.

The Pheu Thai Party announced Monday that it plans to propose property tycoon Srettha Thavisin as its candidate for the top job as part of a plan to form a new government with an 11-party coalition that includes pro-military parties affiliated with Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief who seized power nine years ago.

The coalition, which is made up of 314 MPs, will still need to gain dozens of votes from other parties to secure a victory in Tuesday’s election. The Thai Constitution requires that the prime minister gets the backing of at least 375 members in a joint session of the 500-seat House of Representatives and 250-seat Senate.

Since the general election in May, Thailand has been in political limbo as it struggled to appoint new prime minister. Last month, Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the Move Forward Party, failed in his bid to secure enough votes to become the next premier. The progressive leader was blocked by conservative lawmakers and senators who don’t support his party’s pledge to amend a law that criminalizes criticism of Thailand’s monarchy.

Pita’s failure to win parliamentary approval despite his party winning the most seats in May’s general election stirred public discontent and triggered a series of small-scale, non-violent flash mobs by his supporters. Move Forward is popular among young Thais craving change after nine years of rule under military rule. Many Thais believe the country is stagnating due to its political paralysis.

The Thai economy grew 2.2% in the first half of this year, driven mainly by tourism and private consumption following the country’s reopening after the pandemic. On Monday, the government’s think tank National Economic and Social Development Council trimmed its economic growth forecast to 2.5%-3.0% from 2.7%-3.7%.

Thailand’s benchmark SET Index gained 0.4% on Monday close at 1,525.85 in anticipation parliament would be successful in selecting a new prime minister. However, the index is still down 9% this year amid rising interest rates and concerns over the country’s political uncertainty.

“Market participants are focusing mainly on the PM selection. A successful nomination could ignite positive reaction on optimism that political vacuum will soon end. However, any gain may not be sustainable as there still are many uncertainties and challenges ahead,” said Kobsidthi Silpachai, Head of Capital Markets Research at Kasikornbank.

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