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Thailand’s Super Tuesday – Thaksin returns and parliament tries to elect a new PM

Thaksin Shinawatra
Thaksin Shinawatra returns to Thailand Tuesday. Or does he?

Political paths converge on August 22, a day that deserves the nickname “Super Tuesday” in Thailand.

First there’s the return of Thaksin Shinawatra to Thailand, his first visit since 2008 when he fled into self-exile in fear of coup leaders trumping up charges against him and his time as Thailand’s prime minister. They did and convictions were handed down in-absentia. Thaksin has lived in exile, mostly in Dubai, London and Hong Kong, since.

His planned return tomorrow morning, scheduled to land in a Shinawatra private jet at Don Mueang Airport at 9am, is the latest plan since he postponed the last ‘return’ date of August 10. Thai officials promise that they’re all ready for him and will escort him to jail. Political theatre? Probably. Or has Thaksin already pre-arranged some sort of royal pardon or some other political deal to land back in Thailand?

His arrival date coincides with third attempt of a joint sitting of both parliamentary houses to elect a new Thai PM. This time it will be Srettha Thavisin, the real estate magnate, who will be representing Pheu Thai as the prime ministerial candidate. Yes, the very same Pheu Thai party where Thaksin Shinawatra is still highly regarded as the ‘spiritual leader’ if not still wielding emotional power over the party’s day-to-day political decisions.

The symbolism of Thaksin’s ‘possible’ return tomorrow is not missed by most Thais and every politician who will vote in the halls of parliament tomorrow. The vote will take on additional significance because of the long shadow cast by the Shinawatra family and their legacy in Thai politics.

Whilst the coup leaders, led by Prayut Chan-o-cha have tried their hardest to extinguish that legacy, and failed, the Move Forward Party was another attempt to offer a new political face to ‘move forward’ from the divisive nature of Pheu Thai vs the military/elite/conservative side of Thai politics.

Indeed Pheu Thai is offering an alliance, a political coalition, with the Army generals who sought to banish the Shinawatra’s and the Red Shirt movement. The coalition that will be offered up to parliament tomorrow, led by Pheu Thai, includes the two ‘uncle’ parties that Pheu Thai promised during the campaign to “never work with”.

So bring on Thailand’s Super Tuesday, a day when the Thai media will be dragged to Don Mueang, then to cover the parliamentary vote.

Will Thaksin even arrive? Will he be dragged off to prison? Will Srettha Thavisin become Thailand’s next prime minister? Or will his bid fail and another few weeks pass until the parliament can have another stab at forming a government?

Get out your popcorn.

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