Thaksin hints at returning - only if it 'benefits Thailand'

Demonstrators protesting against Thaksin on Wednesday outside a New York private club, where the deposed Thai premier was speaking at an event.
Demonstrators protesting against Thaksin on Wednesday outside a New York private club, where the deposed Thai premier was speaking at an event.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Self-exiled former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose political network is now suppressed by the military government, says he will consider returning home only if it would "benefit the country and the people".

The billionaire has lived abroad for the past eight years to evade a graft-related jail sentence imposed after he was toppled by a 2006 military coup. His sister, Ms Yingluck Shinawatra, was deposed as prime minister in 2014 by a court ruling, and is facing a lengthy trial that could see her jailed for 10 years.

Thaksin had earlier voiced confidence about returning to Thailand but he remains a deeply polarising figure in the kingdom. In 2013, an attempt by the then-ruling Puea Thai party to push through a Bill granting him amnesty fomented discontent that led to street protests. This culminated in a coup that ushered in the current military government.

In comments made to media outlets after speaking at the World Policy Institute think-tank in New York, Thaksin voiced suspicion at the military government's intentions despite its pledge to hold an election in 2017. "If we look at their behaviour, (it is) as if they would like to stay as long as possible," he told AFP.

Thaksin is widely seen as the de facto leader of Puea Thai party. Although dormant in the initial year after the military takeover, the party has recently become more vocal in its criticism of the junta.

In his remarks on Wednesday, Thaksin warned that the draft Constitution under debate now would not meet Thailand's future needs. Trade and investment, he added, "cannot flourish if there is no certain degree of confidence provided by the rule of law".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2016, with the headline 'Thaksin hints at returning - only if it 'benefits Thailand''. Print Edition | Subscribe