BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra met lawmakers from his Puea Thai Party in Hong Kong where he called for party unity ahead of an approaching general election, party members said on Monday (Feb 19).
Many are watching to see how Puea Thai Party performs in a vote which the military government has promised to hold in November 2018 but which could be delayed.
Thaksin, who founded Advance Info Service Pcl, Thailand's largest mobile phone operator, was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 when he was overthrown in a military coup supported by the Bangkok-based establishment.
Thaksin, who is based in Dubai, continues to loom large over Thai politics and remains popular in the northeast 'Isaan' region which, along with the north, forms the stronghold of parties aligned with Thaksin which have won every election since 2001 by appealing to poorer voters.
His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected prime minister in 2011. She was overthrown in a 2014 military coup.
Yingluck fled Thailand last August (2017), weeks before the Supreme Court found her guilty of negligence in mismanaging a rice subsidy scheme and sentenced her to five years in prison.
Sources in the Puea Thai Party say she is currently based in England.
Thaksin was convicted in absentia in 2006 on conflict of interest charges.
The siblings have been in Asia since the start of the month, said party members, and have visited China, Japan and Hong Kong before travelling to Singapore on Monday.
Prayuth Siripanich, a Puea Thai Party member and its former representative for the northeastern province of Maha Sarakham, said ten lawmakers flew to Hong Kong on Saturday and returned on Monday.
"Thaksin asked lawmakers to be united and not to break that unity," Prayuth told Reuters. "He asked that lawmakers meet their constituents because the election is fast approaching."
Piyapong Klinpan, a spokesman for the junta, or National Council for Peace and Order as it is formally known, told reporters in Bangkok that "relevant agencies", including police, were following Yingluck and Thaksin.
He did not give further details.
Supporters of the Shinawatras say the family are victims of political persecution. Their critics accuse them of widespread corruption, which they deny.