|The Thai political process has functioned like a chain for many years: corruption, military coups, court trials, complicit flights to asylum, new constitutions, fresh elections all to be re-started in the next cycle. The latest incidence is that of former Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who fled a five-year jail sentence two months ago. The Shinawatra family cycle actually began with her older brother Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin, a former police officer, became a successful businessman and then founded the Thai Rak Thai political party which means Thai’s love Thai’s. He then embarked on a populist course that appealed to the rural farmers in northern Thailand and just about anyone else who was not an elitist or in the military. He served from 2001 until 2006 when charges of rampant corruption resulted in the overthrow of his regime by a military junta. Thaksin and his sister, Yingluck, are shown below in happier times going up an escalator in a high-end shopping mall in Bangkok. With a current net worth of some $1.7 billion, Thaksin fled Thailand and spends his time in many different venues, most notably Dubai. His greatest accomplishment in office, other than wealth accumulation, was substantially reducing rural poverty and providing universal health care.
In 2011, Thaksin’s supporters founded a re-cast Thai Rak Thai party called Pheu Thai to appeal to their traditional heartland constituents. Having served successfully in the Thai corporate world, Yingluck stepped into her brother’s shoes and became Prime Minister in 2011. She was wildly popular as the first woman to lead the country appearing like a movie star as compared to the grey looking men who preceded her. Notice the “red shirts” in the stands which is the uniform of the Shinawatra support base.
Despite her popular backing, she was removed from office by another military coup. Her offense was a rice price scheme supported by the government and directed at their political base. Unfortunately, the scheme was ill-conceived and became vastly corrupt leading to billions of dollars of losses and stockpiles of deteriorating rice. Her court case resulted in a prison sentence and once again she, like her brother, slipped out of the country.
General Prayuth, shown below, is currently serving as Prime Minister following the enactment of a new constitution. Prime Minister Prayuth has gone to great lengths to stamp out the long prevalent corruption in Thailand. He promises fresh elections when everything is under control in Thailand.
For some fifty years, successive Thai governments have found it far
more convenient to permit previous administrations to leave the country and enjoy their wealth in private rather than have them imprisoned back home to serve as a rallying cause for their supporters. Who knows, future administrations may need the same sort of treatment.
The depth of emotion of Yingluck’s supporters is demonstrated below outside the court at the time of her absentee sentencing. Therefore, in a country where the traditional “red shirt” percentage of the population actually outnumbers the remaining population, it might take some time before things are under control.
The most recent news is that Yingluck, like her brother before her, was denied political asylum in the United Kingdom. Some years previously Thaksin was denied political asylum despite some $4.5 billion of alleged assets in the UK which would have qualified for a passport purchase most anywhere. It seems Prime Minister, Theresa May, cast a jaundiced eye on the charming and charismatic presence of Yingluck in her country. On the other hand, Theresa May could use a bit of charm as she attempts to cram Brexit down the throat of Angela Merkel, yet another female Prime Minister.
The Thai Foreign Ministry revoked Yingluck’s Thai passport most likely while she was in the UK though we can safely assume Thaksin would have previously arranged an assortment of other nationality passports.
As the author has maintained for many years, one cannot have too many passports. Should difficulties ever develop with picky immigration officers, or a prospective re-settlement program, nationality optionality is important. Thaksin and his sister are believers in that approach.