Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Thailand’s Thaksin faces daunting task

By John Berthelsen - posted Tuesday, 29 August 2023

After 15 years of exile in Dubai, Thai billionaire Tucson Shinawatra has managed to engineer his return to a hero's welcome in Bangkok, ending three months of political paralysis as competing interests jockeyed for power. It is a deal that pleases few except perhaps Thaksin himself and his forces. But as a member of his political faction told Asia Sentinel, "This is the best possible solution for the country to move forward. Other options would be a minority government led by military-cum-oligarchy parties or a country run by a caretaker government headed by (former junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha) until the next legislature. Thaksin's return means that a deal has been struck. The business community can breathe a sigh of relief over the end of the uncertainty."

The arrival of property tycoon Srettha Thavisin as prime minister on August 22, with backing from Thaksin's surrogate Pheu Thai party and an 11-party coalition including Palang Pracharat and United Thai Nation, both linked to Prayuth, hopefully means an end to the stalemate that began when the youth-oriented Move Forward Party stunned everyone in the May 14 general election including Thaksin and Pheu Thai, which had been the heavy favorite to come first in the election. Move Forward won 151 of the 500 votes in the lower house compared to 141 for Pheu Thai. Both military parties were drubbed in the May 14 general election but the behind-the-scenes power of the military, which has dominated since the 1932 coup that ended the absolute monarchy, cannot be denied.

There can be no doubt that Thaksin is in charge of the party and that Srettha will take his marching orders. But it also is an indication that Thaksin has had to accept being forced to bend at least partly to the royalist, military, and establishment factions that kicked him out as prime minister in 2006 and dissolved his Thai Rak Thai Party despite its solid appeal among Thailand's voters for its populist social policies. Scope for action may thus be circumscribed by the composition of the coalition that put Srettha in nominal charge. As a political analyst told Asia Sentinel, "First (Thaksin) will have to get a royal pardon before he can have any leverage. It's hard to tell what he can do now rather than monitoring developments. Although Pheu Thai won a great victory in parliament yesterday with some of ardent adversaries crossing the party line to vote for Srettha, Pheu Thai will now have more parties to deal with, which includes making more compromises. And it will be difficult to push through its campaign policies, let alone amend the constitution. The sailing will be an arduous one." However, the nature of Phei Thai has been to deal with political 'warlords' as it did in the Thai Rak Thai days. Pheu Thai is pragmatic rather than principled and should be able to co-exist with the newly formed coalition.


The biggest concern internationally will be whether, given the growing US-China rivalry for primacy in Southeast Asia, he will shadow the military's efforts to cozy up to Beijing, including sending back Uyghur, Tibetan, and Chinese dissidents who had escaped from Beijing's clutches. The other question is whether he will also follow the military's behind-the-scenes efforts to ameliorate pressure on the Myanmar military dictatorship and its bloody civil war against its own people that began in February 2021 it has so far taken the lives of thousands of the country's own citizens.

Given the fact that the coalition owes at least partly its success to the backing of Prayuth's military-aligned parties, "he will have to tread a thin line and not act like a maverick," the member of the Thaksin faction said. "He will likely prefer to keep some distance from Myanmar in order to have some credibility among members of the Association of Southeast Asian nations," who themselves have been wavering in their opposition to the Myanmar dictatorship. However, the new government may not be able to intervene with military-to-military relationships.

Srettha, like Thaksin, is a billionaire and property developer. He is not a career politician, nor does he need to be. Thaksin has used surrogate parties and surrogate leaders including members of his own family to remain relevant since he was ousted in the October 2006 military coup. He hasn't dared to come to Thailand since 2008 and still faces numerous corruption charges that are likely to be dismissed, possibly with a symbolic few days in detention. Although no announcement has been made, Thaksin likely would not have returned without some assurances to limit future jail time.

As a squaring up of IOUs to all, former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, at the same court where Thaksin was handed down his prison sentence, upheld Suthep's appeal against his prison sentence. Suthep was convicted over corruption involving a government development project, and was the instigator of the Bangkok protests, which brought down the Wingluk government back in 2014.

Srettha's parliamentary victory and Thaksin's return are a bitter pill for Move Forward's Harvard-trained leader Pita Limjaroenrat, whose campaign unsettled the military and the monarchy by promising definitive change after nine years of junta-led rule that were characterized by deep corruption and economic paralysis. Pita advocated reducing the power of the monarchy, increased social programs, legalization of same-sex marriage, the scrapping of military conscription, amending article 112, the country's lèse-majesté law, scrutinizing the royal budget, which has ballooned under King Rama X, and decentralizing the government.

Move Forward was thwarted by election rules written into the constitution in 2019 by the military requiring majority support from both houses of parliament to become prime minister. The coalition Pita formed with other opposition parties including Pheu Thai granted him 312 votes of the necessary 375. All of the serving senators were appointed by the military. Pita, who could still face legal action from the Constitutional Court, is expected to take Move Forward into the opposition to wait out the next two years, at which time the senate is dissolved and he will have another chance to seek to govern.


Indeed, unless the courts put Pita out of business as they have several challenges to the status quo ante, there is widespread anger in Thailand to heighten Move Forward's appeal over the way the establishment forces have hobbled the country economically, politically, educationally, and socially, tying it to a medieval version of royalty in which obeisance must be paid, especially to this king, who is considered erratic and dissolute. The fact that Thaksin has aligned himself with the establishment in order to return from exile in Dubai hardly plays well among the young. Sadly, the dominance of the military-royalty-establishment complex, hidden among Thailand's stunning palaces and gorgeous beaches, means a real revolution continues to elude them. Thaksin, it seems, has joined the complex. It remains to be seen if he can coopt them, or if they will coopt him.


  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

This article was first published in Asia Sentinel.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

John Berthelsen is co-founder and editor in chief of Asia Sentinel, former managing editor, Hong Kong Standard and an Asian Wall Street Journal correspondent in five countries, He was also Newsweek Magazine correspondent in Vietnam, a Pulitzer nominee, and two-time Society of Publishers in Asia winner of excellence in reporting.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by John Berthelsen

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy