Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, returning to the country after fifteen years in exile, obtained a partial amnesty from King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who decided on Friday to reduce his prison term from eight to one year.
The 74-year-old billionaire spent only a few hours behind bars after returning to Thailand on August 22 after 15 years abroad to escape convictions for corruption he considered political.
He is staying under surveillance in a police hospital in Bangkok, where he was transferred for health problems, including heart problems. He filed a request for a royal pardon on Thursday, a procedure which normally takes one to two months.
The speed of the sovereign’s decision has fueled rumors of a pact between Thaksin’s entourage and the army, which have been circulating for several weeks.
The former leader, in power from 2001 to 2006, was initially sentenced to eight years in prison, for three cases of corruption and abuse of power tried in his absence, relating to his management of the country and his former company Shin Corp.
“The fact is that he was a prime minister who worked for the benefit of the country and the people. He is loyal to the monarchical institution,” a government statement said.
” Congratulations “
” The king […] reduced Thaksin Shinawatra’s prison term to one year, so that he puts his expertise and experience at the service of the country’s development,” the statement added, also mentioning the fragile health of the former leader.
Thaksin is a major figure in Thai politics, long divided between his supporters from rural areas in the north and northeast (the “reds”) and his conservative opponents (the “yellows”).
The former owner of Manchester City football club, whose fortune is valued at around two billion dollars, built his popularity around pioneering redistribution policies in a kingdom plagued by inequality.
His opponents accuse him of having mixed his personal affairs with those of the state. Despite two large victories, in 2001 and 2005, Thaksin was eventually overthrown by the army in 2006.
From abroad, the telecom magnate continued to exert his influence, via the party controlled by his family, Pheu Thai, which notably raised to power his little sister, Yingluck, also the victim of a coup d’etat by the generals in 2014.
He justified his return to the kingdom to see his grandchildren.
Upon arriving at a Bangkok airport on August 22, where hundreds of supporters were waiting for him, Thaksin’s first public gesture was to bow before a portrait of the king and queen, a mark of respect for the monarchy.
His return coincided with the return to power of Pheu Thai, after the May 14 legislative elections.
“I congratulated Thaksin’s family on this news. His family must be happy,” new Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin told reporters on Friday.
The course of the leader, former boss of one of the main real estate development companies in Thailand, has often fueled comparisons with Thaksin, also from the business world.
But his accession to power was made at the cost of an alliance with pro-army formations, which will occupy several ministries despite their defeat in the elections: an outstretched hand towards his former rivals considered as a counterpart to favor the return of Thaksin, according to analysts.
This controversial coalition, which provoked the anger of part of the “reds”, excludes the reformists of Move Forward, winners of the ballot, whose program is considered too radical by the military who dominate the institutions.
Move Forward, darling of the new generations, failed to obtain the nomination as Prime Minister of its leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, because of the resistance of conservative circles who oppose his project to reform the law on the crime of lèse-majesté.