Original Author: Sui-Lee Wee
Thailand’s king has granted a partial pardon to the ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, commuting his eight-year prison sentence to a year, just days after the politician returned to the country from 15 years of exile, the nation’s official journal reported Friday.
Mr. Thaksin, 74, arrived in Thailand on Aug. 22, just hours before Parliament selected Srettha Thavisin, of the Thaksin-linked Pheu Thai Party, as prime minister. He was quickly taken into custody and told by a court that he had to serve an eight-year sentence in connection with three cases of corruption and abuse of power.
Mr. Thaksin remains one of Thailand’s most influential politicians. He served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006 and was then ousted in a coup. Since 2001, the political parties he founded have consistently won the most votes in every election — except this year when the progressive Move Forward Party clinched a surprise victory.
For decades, Mr. Thaksin’s name invoked bitter divisions in Thailand. The country was split between the pro-Thaksin “red shirt” protesters from the rural north and the anti-Thaksin “yellow shirt” faction made up of royalists and the urban elite, which battled each other in the streets of Bangkok. Both the wealthy aristocrats and the military viewed him as a threat.
Mr. Thaksin’s sudden return fueled speculation that he had struck a deal with powerful royalists to have his jail term reduced in exchange for agreeing to help perpetuate their power. On his first night in jail, the authorities said he was transferred to a police hospital because of chest pains, high blood pressure and low blood oxygen.
On Thursday, the departing deputy prime minister, Wissanu Krea-ngam, said he had received an application for a royal pardon for Mr. Thaksin.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn took into account that Mr. Thaksin had “contributed beneficially to the nation and the people and is loyal to the monarchy,” according to a statement in the Royal Gazette, which communicates new laws, decrees and appointments. The statement also noted that Mr. Thaksin “is in old age with health problems.”
The king “has graciously granted the royal pardon to reduce his sentence to be in prison for one year,” according to the statement, “so that he can continue to use his knowledge, abilities and experience to help and contribute to the nation, the society and the peoples.”