The flight into exile this week by former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to the United Kingdom is expected to ease the some of the pressures surrounding Thailand’s political landscape. The Thai authorities are taking legal steps to press for Thaksin’s extradition to face corruption charges after the politician and his family failed to appear in court on Monday. Thaksin will challenge the competency of the Thai courts as well as claim political persecution and is seeking political asylum in the UK, which has a bilateral treaty on extradition.
Former Thai PM Thaksin is seeking political asylum in the UK
Thaksin and his wife, who had been granted leave by the Thai Supreme Court court to visit Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games, later failed to appear for a court hearing. This led to warrants being issued for their arrest. Bail that was set at 400,000 dollars was confiscated.
Sunai Pasuk, a representative in Thailand for Human Rights Watch, says Thaksin’s escape to England has “turned him into a political martyr, which will serve to maintain the strength of his party” that gets much of its support from the urban and rural poor.
Thaksin and his wife Pojaman were charged with abuse of power after Pojaman purchased state land at a third of the market value in 2003 during Thaksin’s time in office. The case is before a special Supreme Court for political office holders where judgments are final without appeal.
In late July, Pojaman was found guilty of evading tax and sentenced to three years’ jail. She was then released on bail pending an appeal to the ruling.
Special investigation goes on
The court cases are part of a special investigation that started after Thaksin was ousted in a coup in September 2006, accused by the urban middle class of corruption and abuse of power. The investigation unit is led by the auditor general and other senior judges.
Both Thaksin and his wife have denied any wrong doing. Thaksin, in a handwritten note, pointed to security concerns for his flight to the UK. He also apologized to supporters for fleeing into political asylum, calling on them to remain committed to him.
Kraisak Choonhavan, a parliamentary member of the opposition Democrat Party, thinks that despite Thaksin fleeing Thailand his influence on the political landscape will remain: “He’s not completely out of the picture still. He is a fugitive and he will probably seek refugee status. The attorney general would have to prove he’s not a refugee and he doesn’t deserve to have refugee status.”
Kraisak also predicts that while a groundswell of support for Thaksin will remain his nominee People’s Power Party is likely to be fractured along factional lines as the former leader will be able to exert less influence over political events from the United Kingdom than was previously the case.
Heated political climate calming down
Thailand’s political climate has been heated ever since a nominee party backed by supporters of Thaksin won general elections held last December. The People’s Power Party, led by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, had hoped to amend the constitution and allow for Thaksin and other banned former party members to return to politics. But such moves triggered hostile street demonstrations.
Chris Baker, a political analyst, thinks, however, that now things have started to settle and is optimistic about the current government’s chances of survival: “I think it’s significantly calmed down now. My guess is that the Samak government will survive for quite a long time -- much longer than many people suspect.”
On Thursday, the Royal Thai Police began distributing arrest warrants for Thaksin and Pojaman. Earlier, the office of the Thai Attorney General said it was preparing to proceed to confiscate some 19 billion dollars in assets that were frozen soon after corruption investigations began.