Thaksin returns to Thailand to cheers, tears

Ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra made an emotional return from exile on Thursday, swearing to stay out of politics despite a widespread belief he would run the country from behind the scenes.

Within minutes of arriving, the telecoms billionaire surrendered to police on a corruption charge, and then, with tears in his eyes, left the terminal to greet the land of his birth after 18 months of enforced separation since the 2006 coup.

His palms clasped together in a traditional gesture of respect, the 59-year-old knelt down and placed his forehead on the pavement.

Thousands of supporters waving roses and “We love Thaksin” banners cheered their hero, who was then whisked away in a motorcade of limousines to the Supreme Court, where he was granted bail. Many in the crowds were in tears.

During his journey home from Hong Kong, Thaksin protested his innocence but also struck a conciliatory note, suggesting he might not embark immediately on a campaign of vengeance against the generals who booted him from office.

“When the game is over, we must come together and settle our differences, forgive everything and help each other push the country forward,” he told reporters on the plane, a celebratory glass of champagne in his hands.

“I can prove my innocence. The allegations are empty.”

Widespread support

Thaksin, the first elected Thai prime minister to complete a full term in office in 75 years of on-off democracy, said he would not meddle in politics, even though the administration elected in December is run by his close supporters.

“I’ll just voice concerns as a former prime minister, if I were to have any,” he said.

It was the support for Thaksin in the countryside and among urban workers that carried the People Power Party, led by Samak Sundaravej, to a near overall majority in December.
Voters expect and want Thaksin to be the man making decisions.

“I love him so much,” said 65-year-old Wilai Scott, who is married to a foreigner. “I want Thaksin to be PM again.”

In a sign of widespread support among Bangkok’s rank and file, Wilai said the taxi driver taking her to the airport to greet Thaksin refused to accept a fare.

“He has to be PM again. It’s been very bad for us. No jobs, more crime. Nothing good came from the coup,” said Suwan Chaisang, a 43-year-old rice farmer from Nakhon Pathom, just north of Bangkok, who waited for Thaksin since before dawn.

Even though his return appears to have been negotiated carefully, it represents a defeat, possibly temporary, for the military and royalist establishment who sought to erase Thaksin from the political map.

Having executed a clinical and bloodless coup, accusing Thaksin of presiding over rampant corruption and disrespecting King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the generals were then undermined by the dithering of the interim government they set up.

Despite Thaksin’s expressions of reconciliation, most analysts expect a renewed battle between him and the traditional elite for control of Thailand’s future.

Thaksin—barred from politics for five years for electoral fraud—will still have to fight one corruption charge and possibly more.—Reuters

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