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THAILAND COUP: Exiled Thaksin running out of options

Publication Date : 26-05-2014


With his Puea Thai party and power base in disarray amid a determined crackdown by the ruling military, and the Thai King's endorsement of junta supremo Prayuth Chan-ocha expected today, the options for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra are looking severely limited.

In a tweet yesterday, Thaksin said that "as an elected PM", he was "saddened" by the "tragic events caused by another coup" and called for those detained to receive fair treatment.

His sister - and now also former premier - Yingluck Shinawatra, detained on Friday, was released yesterday but barred from leaving Thailand, reports said.

Thaksin was out of the country when he was ousted in an army coup in 2006 on the grounds of corruption and disrespecting the monarchy. He later fled Thailand to escape a two-year jail sentence for corruption.

 He continued to exert influence though he lives in self-exile abroad, with his political parties winning elections and his "red shirt" power base giving him its full support. The former police officer is often said to have taken to heart the motto of Thailand's police cadet school: "Better to die than live like a loser."

Thaksin's best bet for returning to power is an election. But whether there will be one, and under what rules, is uncertain. Speaking to The Straits Times from an undisclosed location, Chaturon Chaisang, a minister in the ousted government, said that sooner or later the military regime would have to call an election. But the coup d'etat was about "changing the rules of the game" so that nobody could challenge the entrenched old elite even through  elections, he added.

 Given this reality, the option of setting up a government-in-exile is being considered, according to Thaksin's lawyer, Britain- based Robert Amsterdam. "Steps are now being undertaken to re-form a coherent... red shirt leadership outside of Thailand," he said on his website yesterday.

The junta is not impressed and has threatened to take legal action against Amsterdam.

The government-in-exile plan was confirmed by Jakrapob Penkair, a former minister in a Thaksin-backed government who fled to Cambodia following a government crackdown on the red shirt movement in 2009.

"There is a 50 per cent chance that a government-in-exile will be set up," he said.

But analysts are sceptical, saying there are obstacles.

There is the question of where the government-in-exile will be based, something not many countries will welcome. There is also the question of who should lead it. He or she should preferably be from the government elected in 2011, but  the best candidate, Yingluck, would be out of the question, said Jakrapob.

The most likely name, apart from Thaksin himself, is Puea Thai party leader and former minister Jarupong Ruengsuwan who, according to sources, may have also fled to Cambodia.

A government-in-exile is a good idea as it will be a repudiation of the coup, according to Thai political analyst Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University.

"But the fact that it is Thaksin's idea discredits it," he added.

A Bangkok-based expert on international law, who asked not to be named, called the idea of a government-in-exile a non-starter.

"Recognition of a government- in-exile is a pipe dream," he said.


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