A populist Thai party, linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has won a vote in parliament to lead the country. This comes just hours after Thaksin returned from years of self-imposed exile and began an eight-year prison sentence. The real estate tycoon, Srettha Thavisin, secured victory with 482 votes out of 727 lawmakers present.
Thavisin’s victory brings an end to months of suspense, legal wrangling, and horse trading that followed the May elections. The progressive Move Forward Party, which won the most votes in the national election, was blocked from taking power by conservative senators.
Thaksin’s return was an emotional moment for his supporters, who gathered outside the airport wearing red clothes and holding signs with welcoming messages. They sang and chanted with anticipation, erupting in cheers when Thaksin appeared at the terminal door. Many of his followers have strong loyalty to the billionaire due to his populist policies that directed attention and funding to the rural, often impoverished areas of the country.
Thaksin has a long history of conflict with the military. He left Thailand 15 years ago, following a 2006 coup that cut short his second term as prime minister. This led to years of political upheaval. Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who led a Pheu Thai government, was also ousted in 2014 by the then-army chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha. Chan-ocha is now the outgoing prime minister after voters largely rejected military-linked parties.
Srettha will lead a coalition of 11 parties, including two pro-military parties affiliated with outgoing Prime Minister Chan-ocha. Move Forward Party has been excluded from the coalition, leading to criticism that the new government is betraying the election results. However, Pheu Thai leaders defended the coalition as a necessary step to end the political deadlock and promote reconciliation.
Pheu Thai stated that Move Forward Party’s stance on changing the royal defamation law made it impossible to gather enough support from other parties and the Senate. Under the current constitution, both houses of Parliament vote together for the prime minister, in a system established to protect conservative military-backed rule.
Thaksin’s return coincides with the formation of the new government, leading some to speculate that he is hoping for a friendly government that may shorten his prison sentence. Thaksin’s decision to return now suggests that he has received assurances that he will not have to serve his full eight-year sentence for corruption.
As Thaksin arrived in Thailand, he prostrated himself before a portrait of the king and queen and left a flower wreath. He then proceeded to the Supreme Court, where his eight-year sentence was confirmed. From there, he went directly to Bangkok’s main prison.
Thaksin’s daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, expressed gratitude on social media for the support her father received upon his return. Pheu Thai will control eight Cabinet posts and nine deputy Cabinet posts, while the military-backed parties will receive two Cabinet posts.
Source: Associated Press