Thai king commutes former PM Thaksin’s prison term to one year

Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand last week in a dramatic homecoming after spending 15 years abroad in self-exile to avoid prison.

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Thailand's ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at his home in Dubai in 2011 [File: Jumana el-Heloueh/Reuters]

Thailand’s king has commuted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s eight-year prison sentence to one year, a day after the billionaire submitted a request for pardon.

The partial pardon from King Maha Vajiralongkorn was confirmed by the official Royal Gazette with the announcement pointing to his service to the country as prime minister.

“Thaksin accepted his crime and showed remorse,” the gazette said on Friday.

He arrived on a private jet last week and was transferred to prison to serve an eight-year sentence. On his first night, he was moved to a police hospital because of chest pains and high blood pressure.

The former leader, 74, returned to Thailand in a dramatic homecoming after spending 15 years abroad in self-exile to avoid prison on charges of abuse of power and conflicts of interest during his time in power.

Thaksin “was a prime minister, has done good for the country and people, and is loyal to the monarchy”, the gazette said.

“He respected the process, admitted his guilt, repented, accepted court verdicts. Right now he is old, has illness that needs care from a medical professional,” it read.

“His Majesty the King has granted him amnesty and reduced the sentence on Thaksin Shinawatra …  so he could use his expertise and experience to develop the country further.”

Thaksin was twice elected prime minister and ousted in a 2006 military coup.

Influential but divisive

His homecoming coincided with his Pheu Thai party returning to government in alliance with pro-military parties, leading many to conclude an agreement had been struck to cut his jail time.

Former telecoms tycoon and Manchester City owner Thaksin is one of the most influential but divisive figures in modern Thai history.

Loved by millions of rural Thais for his populist policies in the early 2000s, he has long been reviled by the country’s royalist and pro-military establishment.

Much of Thai politics over the last two decades has been coloured by the establishment’s efforts to keep Thaksin and his allies out of power.

His supporters gave him a hero’s welcome on landing in Bangkok, and his first public act was to prostrate himself in homage before a portrait of the king at the airport.

Hours later Pheu Thai’s Srettha Thavisin was confirmed as prime minister – the party’s first premier since Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck, was ousted in a coup in 2014.

Parties linked to Thaksin have dominated every Thai election since 2001 – until this year when the progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) won the most seats.

But the new coalition government has shut MFP out while bringing in parties linked to the coup-maker generals who ousted Thaksin and Yingluck, leading to anger from many Thais.

“It is his majesty’s grace that showed Thaksin mercy,” Thaksin’s lawyer Winyat Chatmontri said, referring to the king’s sentence reduction.

“Thais should accept and not criticise this outcome because it could be considered a violation of royal power,” he added.

Thailand’s strict royal insult law shields the monarchy from criticism, carrying a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

Source: News Agencies