Thaksin calls for talks with junta to end political crisis

In an interview in Singapore, ex-Thai prime minister worries about the country's ailing economy and a new draft Constitution

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has called for talks with the country's military government to end Thailand's political crisis, but he also said that the military rulers were jeopardising its ailing economy.

"I have been quiet for too long," he told the Financial Times in a rare interview. "I offer any kind of discussion or talk. I'm ready."

At the heart of the fractious politics is rivalry between the Bangkok-based royalist-military establishment and Thaksin and his allies.

Thaksin, 66, was premier from 2001 to 2006. The businessman has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid a jail sentence for corruption. Even so, he and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was premier from 2011 to 2014, remain hugely popular in their traditional power base in the country's north and north-east.

Last month, Thailand published a draft Constitution to replace one scrapped after the coup in May 2014. Critics, among them political parties, have expressed fears that the draft Constitution is aimed at consolidating the military's power.

It provides for an unelected prime minister, and opens up the possibility that a military leader could continue to lead the country after elections.

JUST A CHARADE

It is a charade to show the world that Thailand is returning to democracy... In reality, it would be like Myanmar before its political reforms. There would be a prime minister, but the real power would be in some politburo above him, and the economy would suffer. No other government would want to touch Thailand.

EX-PRIME MINISTER THAKSIN SHINAWATRA, on the new Thai Constitution being drafted.

Thaksin told The Wall Street Journal: "It is a charade to show the world that Thailand is returning to democracy... In reality, it would be like Myanmar before its political reforms. There would be a prime minister, but the real power would be in some politburo above him, and the economy would suffer. No other government would want to touch Thailand."

He stressed that he was not trying to "challenge" the generals, although he also said: "In this 21st century, no one respects the country with the junta regime."

He added: "I don't (say) that this junta will not last long. But any regime that (does) not respect the people will not last long."

The government plans to put the draft Constitution to a referendum in July and has promised to hold elections - originally slated for the end of last year - sometime next year.

As for the allegations of corruption and abuse of power against Thaksin, as well as his 2008 court conviction over a conflict of interest in a land deal, he insisted that they were politically motivated.

He also questioned why his sister was placed on trial.

Last year, a military-appointed assembly found Yingluck guilty of mismanaging a multibillion-dollar rice subsidy scheme. She faces criminal charges over the issue that could result in a 10-year jail term.

"I can tell you it is politically motivated," Thaksin said. "I'm not complaining about the judges - I'm complaining about the system and why she was charged. I hope she won't be convicted but I can't be sure."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2016, with the headline 'Thaksin calls for talks with junta to end political crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe