11 July 2024

Tweak in ‘Thaksin Model’ could see Yingluck follow brother home soon

Yingluck Shinawatra marked her 57th birthday last month by hinting at a possible return to Thailand sometime over the next 12 months.

“If I get the opportunity, I want to celebrate [my birthday] with you in Thailand next year. Can I?” she asked her supporters in a video call to Bangkok on June 21.

The party was held – minus the birthday girl – in a community near the fugitive ex-premier’s Bangkok mansion. Yingluck is living in London, according to her recent social media posts.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, her niece and leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, posted an Instagram birthday message promising to visit Yingluck with her children.

“But it would be best for you to come back and stay close to us,” wrote Paetongtarn, the youngest daughter of former prime minister Thaksin, Yingluck’s elder brother.

Talk of possible return

Exchanging Thai New Year greetings in April, Thaksin told Yingluck that they should be able to make merit together in their native Chiang Mai during Songkran next year.

“Yingluck wanted to come back this year, but I don’t know when [it will be possible],” he said.

Speaking on Family Day on April 14, Thaksin said that reuniting with his family after his own return to Thailand had brought him satisfaction and contentment far better than living in self-exile overseas.

Thaksin, who was ousted in a military coup in September 2006 and sentenced to jail in absentia for corruption and power abuse, returned to Thailand last August after 15 years overseas amid rumours of a backroom deal with powers that be. The rumours grew louder after he was transferred to the Police General Hospital on the night of his return before having his eight-year prison term commuted to one year by royal pardon. The 74-year-old was released on parole after six months of hospital detention, with authorities citing his old age and health issues.

Good news for Yingluck

Thailand’s first female prime minister, Yingluck has lived in self-imposed exile overseas since she fled the country in August 2017 on the eve of a ruling by the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders. The court found her guilty of negligence in connection with her government’s corruption-tainted rice-pledging scheme.

Like Thaksin, Yingluck was the focus of multiple cases stemming from her tenure as prime minister between August 2011 and May 2014. In September 2017, a month after she had fled the country and failed to show up for the verdict reading, the Supreme Court sentenced her in absentia to five years in prison.

However, Yingluck has received a stream of good news regarding her court battles over the past half-year.

In December, the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders acquitted her of malfeasance in the 2011 transfer of National Security Council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri, who sued her after losing his job. The court ruled that Yingluck had no “special intention” of causing damage and that it was a normal transfer, not part of a plot to get her relative appointed as national police chief, as alleged.

The court found no evidence of any criminal conspiracy in the 2011 order signed by Yingluck to replace Thawil with Wichean Potephosree, who was then the police chief. Deputy police chief Priewpan Damapong, who is the brother of Thaksin’s ex-wife Potjaman Na Pombejra, was appointed as Wichean’s successor.

The Attorney-General’s Office decided not to appeal the court ruling, effectively ending one case that had been a major obstacle to Yingluck’s return.

In March, another barrier was cleared when the same court acquitted Yingluck and five others of malfeasance and price collusion in a campaign to promote her government’s 2-trillion-baht infrastructure development projects. A lawsuit by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) accused Yingluck and the other defendants of causing damages to the state worth 239.70 million baht by awarding the “Roadshow to Build Thailand’s Future 2020” campaign to two Thai media firms without a bidding process.

In a unanimous decision by the nine judges, the court found no evidence of an intention to favour any party in the implementation of the public relations project. The court also revoked a previously issued warrant for Yingluck’s arrest after she failed to attend the trial.

The NACC decided not to appeal the verdict, bringing Yingluck’s potential return one step closer.

Routes home

Observers reckon that with no prison terms hanging over her, it should not be difficult for Yingluck to follow her brother’s path and return to Thailand.

Thaksin noted in mid-April that Yingluck’s case was not as “complicated” as his own since she has only one legal issue left to tackle after recent acquittals.

Pichit Chuenban, a legal adviser to Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin with close ties to the Shinawatra family, said recently that Yingluck could return home under a process similar to Thaksin’s. He saw “nothing complicated” about the repatriation and said it was up to Yingluck to decide when she would return home.

Observers have suggested that amending the Justice Ministry’s regulation on political prisoners would allow Yingluck to avoid serving time in prison on her return to Thailand. Revising the regulation could help her bypass the current rule that only prisoners aged over 60 can apply to serve their term under house arrest at their residences.

Cases in NACC’s hands

The NACC is currently dealing with more complaints against Yingluck. However, there are no signs that the anti-graft agency will pursue the cases anytime soon.

Cases still in the NACC’s hands concern a fake government-to-government deal to sell rice to China, alleged irregularities in a 1.9-billion-baht government compensation scheme for victims of political conflicts, and unusual wealth stemming from the rice-pledging scheme.

The NACC has already dismissed multiple complaints against Yingluck stemming from her tenure as prime minister. These include the failure to punish her interior minister Charupong Ruangsuwan for a speech that was deemed separatist in nature, the failure to report her ownership of a 2.5-million-baht watch, and allowing the state-run NBT television station to broadcast a speech by Thaksin during a Muay Thai match in Macau that was deemed a threat to national security.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk