By Wilawan Watcharasakwe
Thailand’s king reduced former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s prison term to one year from eight years, the Royal Gazette said on Friday, a day after the tycoon applied for a pardon.
The announcement did not say whether King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) was granting Thaksin an outright pardon through his decision.
“[D]ue to his past history as a prime minister … the King acknowledged the matter, [and] therefore reduced the sentence to one year in jail so that he can use his expertise and experience to contribute to the nation, society and people,” the announcement read.
Thaksin, 74, a billionaire telecoms tycoon and patriarch of the Pheu Thai party, which returned to power last week, came home 10 days ago after 15 years of self-exile. He fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid serving eight years in prison for corruption and abuse of power, in a case he claims was politically motivated.
Following his return last week, the former PM was hospitalized after his first night in prison. He had been taken into custody shortly after arriving in Bangkok from Singapore aboard an executive jet on Aug. 22.
Thaksin was ousted as prime minister in a military coup in 2006. In May 2014, the military also toppled a government headed by his sister, Yingluck.
He was jailed for approving a low-interest loan from the Export-Import Bank of Thailand to Myanmar’s government to buy telecommunications equipment from a company he controlled.
His sentence is also tied to his involvement in a state lottery scheme and efforts to conceal shares in his family business, SHIN Corp., from 2001 to 2006 when the company benefited from government concessions.
‘Amnesty way too rapidly’
The former PM’s party Pheu Thai heads a ruling coalition established through a power-sharing deal struck with parties aligned with the very military that overthrew him and Yingluck.
Pheu Thai was the runner-up in the May 14 general election, placing second to the progressive Move Forward Party.
Pheu Thai jettisoned Move Forward from a prospective ruling bloc to strike a bargain with pro-military parties and elect Srettha Thavisin prime minister just hours after Thaksin’s return.
“I congratulate Thaksin’s family on the news,” Srettha told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse news agency.
“His family must be happy. I heard he suffers from high blood pressure. They must be at ease.”
Thaksin’s daughter, Paetongtarn, an MP who was a potential Pheu Thai prime ministerial candidate, issued a social media statement for the family saying they “humbly” appreciated the king’s gesture.
“Thaksin Shinawatra will use his lifelong experience, knowledge and talent to serve the public and the monarch, henceforth. Long live the King,” she wrote.
Angkhana Neelapaijit, a human rights activist, said the king had the right to take such action, but she questioned if Thaksin received special treatment.
“It is worth noting that the department of corrections proceeded with ‘amnesty way too rapidly, compared with other cases. Is it discrimination against other inmates because he has not had to sleep in the jail but in a [Very Important Person] hospital room,” she told BenarNews.
A group called Free Youth, which had been involved in protests that began in July 2020 and have demanded that the monarchy be reformed, called for amnesty for more people.
“King Rama X reduced the sentence for Thaksin to one year, while many others are serving jail terms on charges of lèse-majesté,” the group said on its Facebook page. “Some go on hunger strikes to demand bail. Justice must prevail for all.”
Lèse-majesté is the nation’s strict anti-royal defamation law which carries a prison term of up to 15 years. As of March 2023, at least 238 people, including a 15-year-old girl, had been charged with violating lèse-majesté, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights had said.
Two political analysts said Thaksin may spend little time in custody.
“Pheu Thai is the government, so imprisonment is going to be convenient and short,” Thanaporn Sriyakul, political science department chairman at Kasetsart University, told BenarNews.
There likely had been a plan leading up to Thaksin ending his self-exile, said another analyst, Nattakorn Withitanon, a political scientist at Chiang Mai University.
“It is believed that talks have been held to ensure a smooth return and that he would not have a long sentence,” Nattakorn told BenarNews.
“It is believed that Thaksin had the power to determine the direction, including the negotiations with various parties.”
Kunnawut Boonreak, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributed to this report.