|Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is widely seen as a political proxy of her brother Thakin Shinawatra [Reuters]
A controversial amnesty decree has been endorsed by Thailand's cabinet that could pave the way for the return of Thaksin Shinawatra, the country's fugitive former prime minister, according to local media reports.
The proposed amnesty was agreed at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, local media said on Wednesday, citing officials at the office of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's current prime minister and Thaksin's sister.
"Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was not present at the meeting and all officials were asked to leave the room when the issue was deliberated," the Bangkok Post daily said.
Yingluck has yet to confirm or comment on the reported move which has already attracted harsh criticism from the opposition.
The draft, which needs to be approved by Thailand's king, would grant an amnesty to "convicts who are at least 60 years old and are sentenced to under three years in jail", according to the Bangkok Post.
"It shows that what they have done is intended to help one person."
Sakoltee Pattiyakul - Thai opposition MP
Thaksin, who was removed by the army in a 2006 coup, is 62 years old and lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid a two-year prison term for corruption.
Yingluck led the Puea Thai party to victory in a July election on the back of her brother's popularity among Thailand's rural poor and is widely seen as his political proxy.
The return of Thaksin, a deeply divisive figure in Thailand, would likely anger his foes in the Bangkok-based elites in the military, palace and bureaucracy and could spark further turmoil after years of violent protests.
It would also come at a politically sensitive time for Yingluck who has faced strong criticism in recent weeks for her handling of Thailand's worst flood crisis in half a century.
'Intended to help one person'
The reported amnesty plan was immediately criticised by the opposition Democrats, whose own amnesty decree last year excluded corruption convictions.
The Democrat deputy party spokesman Sakoltee Phattiyakul told the AFP news agency that "it shows that what they have done is intended to help one person".
After his sister's election win, Thaksin said setting foot back in Thailand was not a priority, but he has previously expressed his wish to attend his daughter's wedding in December.