February 28, 2008
Thai ex-premier arrives home to hero’s welcome
Andrew Drummond and Richard Lloyd Parry, in Bangkok
Thaksin Shinawatra, the deposed former Thai Prime Minister, was greeted with a hero’s welcome in the capital Bangkok today as he returned home to face corruption allegations.
The Manchester City football club owner, who was ousted in a military coup in September 2006, was accorded the welcome of a liberator after his Thai airlines 747 touched down on a flight from Hong Kong.
After telling officials in the VIP area that he was worried about his security but that he had confidence in Thai justice, he walked out of the airport and fell to his knees to kiss the pavement.
Mr Thaksin’s return marks the latest step in a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the former Thai Prime Minister.
Months ago, he appeared to have been consigned to the dustbin of history after being forced out of office in a military coup, stripped of much of his fortune and facing criminal charges that could land him in prison.
But this morning, analysts believe his triumphant homecoming could mark the latest step in his remarkable return to power.
Thousands of supporters, including members of Thailand’s new Government, a smaller number of opponents and 10,000 police, were waiting for him at Suvarnabhumi airport, some carrying banners and life-size cardboard cutouts of his image.
After arriving, he was immediately taken to Bangkok Criminal court to answer a charge of abuse of power.
Once there, he was, as expected, bailed for Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£136,500 and told not to leave the country without the court’s permission. However, analysts believe that the court was unlikely to refuse such permission, and that the allegations against him may soon be dropped.
No sooner had Mr Thaksin left court than Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee announced that he would be appointed as economic advisor to the government.
The former Prime Minister, who has kept himself in the international public spotlight by buying Manchester City and appointing former England head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson as manager, has been banned from politics for five years, along with 110 of his MPs in the now defunct Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thai) party.
However, Thailand’s current government, led by current Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej of the People’s Power Party, gained power largely by using the former Prime Minister’s popularity in its election campaign. He was accompanied home by PPP party officials.
It is likely now that moves will be made to lift the ban on Mr Thaksin’s political career even though he has repeatedly claimed he has retired from politics. He still has a massive power base in the north-east of Thailand where his policies are popular with farmers.
‘I just want to go home to my family and thank them and everyone for their support,’ he said.
Thaksin’s return, however, is likely to lead to further splits in national unity. The military coup came after months of street demonstrations by pro-democracy supporters, who objected to his clampdown on press freedoms, human rights abuses and his alleged corruption.
‘ On return from exile last year, Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani Prime Minister, planned a two-day procession through Karachi. Hours into the journey, she narrowly escaped a suicide bomb that killed 100 supporters.
‘ In 1814 the French Emperor Napoleon lost to the allied armies and was exiled on the island of Elba, with a personal staff of 1,000. After 100 days, he escaped to the mainland and caused royalist forces to join him with the cry: ‘If there is any soldier among you who wishes to kill his Emperor, here I am’
‘ After 20 years in America, the dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn returned to post-Soviet Russia in 1994, taking two months to cross the country by train, met by well-wishers at every stop
Sources: Times archives, One Hundred Days: Napoleon’s Road to Waterloo
February 28, 2008