Thailand's former Prime Minister Thaksin is in trouble again as he's indicted for royal defamation

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been indicted and arraigned on a charge of defaming the country’s monarchy in one of several court cases that have rattled Thai politics

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Credit: AP

BANGKOK (AP) — Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was indicted and arraigned Tuesday on a charge of defaming the country's monarchy in one of several court cases that have rattled Thai politics. He was granted bail.

Thaksin is the unofficial power behind the party leading the government, Pheu Thai, despite being ousted from power in a coup 18 years ago.

He reported himself to prosecutors Tuesday morning and was indicted, Prayuth Bejraguna, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, said at a news conference.

Thaksin, 74, voluntarily returned to Thailand last year from self-imposed exile and served virtually all of his sentence on corruption-related charges in a hospital rather than prison on medical grounds. He was granted release on parole in February.

Since then, Thaksin has maintained a high profile, traveling the country making public appearances and political observations that could upset the powerful conservative establishment that was behind his 2006 ouster.

His removal from power had started a deep political polarization in Thailand. Thaksin’s opponents, who were generally staunch royalists, accused him of corruption, abuse of power and disrespecting then-King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016.

Prosecution of the long-ago lese majeste case is seen by some analysts as a warning from Thaksin's enemies that he should tone down his political activities.

Thaksin's lawyer, Winyat Chatmontree, told reporters that Thaksin was ready to enter the judicial process. The Criminal Court, where Thakisin was arraigned after being indicted, said Thaksin's bail release was approved with a bond of 500,000 baht ($13,000) under the condition that he cannot travel out of Thailand unless approved by court. His passport was confiscated.

The law on defaming the monarchy, an offense known as lese majeste, is punishable by three to 15 years in prison. It is among the harshest such laws globally and increasingly has been used in Thailand to punish government critics.

Winyat said his client is “not worried, and he’s always maintained that he hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s come here with full confidence in fighting his case.”

Thaksin was originally charged with lese majeste in 2016 for remarks he made a year earlier to journalists in South Korea. The case was not pursued at that time because he went into exile in 2008 to avoid punishment from cases he decried as political.

His case is just one of the several that have complicated Thai politics since the Pheu Thai government took office after the Senate — a conservative, military-appointed body — successfully blocked the progressive Move Forward party, which captured most votes, from taking power last year.

Move Forward is now facing dissolution after the Election Commission asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether it is guilty of attempting to overthrow the system of constitutional monarchy by campaigning to amend the lese majeste law.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who is from Pheu Thai, meanwhile is being probed over his appointment of a Cabinet member who had been imprisoned for bribery. If found culpable, Srettha could be forced out of his position.

Thailand’s courts, especially the Constitutional Court, are considered bulwarks of the royalist establishment, which has used them and nominally independent state agencies such as the Election Commission to cripple political opponents.

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday held procedural hearings on both Move Forward’s and Srettha’s cases, scheduling further proceedings for July 3 in the former case and July 10 in the latter.

The court also ruled on Tuesday that the regulations guiding the partially completed, three-stage voting process to select a new Senate are legal.

The term of the current Senate, appointed by the junta that toppled a previous Pheu Thai government in 2014, expired last month, opening up an opportunity to make its membership more democratic.

Forty members of the interim Senate were behind the petition against Srettha, a move that is seen as favoring a pro-military political party in the coalition government.

The situation is a stark reminder of the challenges Pheu Thai faces from forming alliances with its old enemies, said Napon Jatusripitak, a political science researcher and visiting fellow at Singapore's ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. He said it also reflects "a highly lopsided balance of power between elected and unelected forces in Thailand."

“Thai democracy is once again being held hostage by forces that are unaccountable to public interests,” he said.


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Credit: AP

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Credit: AP