Thailand to indict ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra for allegedly insulting monarchy

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Thai authorities say they plan to indict Thaksin Shinawatra for allegedly insulting the country’s monarchy, in a challenge to the ruling coalition dominated by the populist former prime minister’s party.

The charges from the attorney-general’s office highlight the long-standing political rivalries within Thailand’s ruling alliance, which is comprised of Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party and his former opponents in the conservative military-royalist establishment. They also come just three months after Thaksin was granted parole on a corruption conviction.

Thaksin, 74, will be required to appear in court on June 18 to be indicted under the country’s lèse majesté law, which protects the monarchy from insult and carries a maximum jail term of 15 years. He will also be charged for violating a computer crime law, Reuters reported on Wednesday. 

A former police officer-turned-billionaire telecommunications tycoon, Thaksin served as Thailand’s prime minister from 2001 until he was deposed in a coup d’état in 2006. But he remains a central figure in Thai politics, exerting influence over the Pheu Thai party to which Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin belongs. Thaksin made a dramatic return to the country last year from 15 years of self-imposed exile.

The lèse majesté charge relates to an interview Thaksin gave to South Korean media in 2015, a year after the military removed his sister Yingluck Shinawatra from the premiership in another coup.

Thaksin had denied the accusation at the time, but was in exile and could not be formally indicted. Authorities decided to pursue the case again following his return to Thailand.

The indictment represents the second legal challenge to the Pheu Thai-led government in recent days. Last week Thailand’s constitutional court agreed to hear a case that could result in Srettha’s removal from office over the cabinet appointment of a politician who had served a six-month jail term for attempting to bribe a judge years ago.

Pichit Chuenban, who is known to be close to the Shinawatra family, had been appointed as a minister in the prime minister’s office. Pichit resigned last week.

Both cases were intended as a message from the conservative military establishment to Thaksin, who has been portraying himself as a statesman since his return to Thailand last year, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. 

“His old enemies want to keep him on a leash,” said Thitinan. “If he doesn’t behave, he can be jailed” is the message they want to send to Thaksin, he added. 

Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party joined its bitter military-backed rivals last year to form a government and block the progressive Move Forward party, which won a general election, from gaining power.

Led by the popular Pita Limjaroenrat, Move Forward earned the most votes on the back of promises to implement sweeping institutional reforms, including a controversial amendment to the lèse majesté law.   

Pita and Move Forward have also been beset by a litany of charges that sought to disqualify him from parliament and dissolve the party, after the Constitutional Court ruled that its pledge to amend the lèse majesté law represented an attempt to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

Thaksin was jailed on his return last year — the very same day that Srettha was installed as prime minister — but the former premier’s eight-year term was quickly reduced to one year, of which he served just six months.

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