Thaksin's risky steps on the comeback trail
Former Thai prime minister turned fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra is apparently pursuing the first step in a political comeback. But his high-profile visit to Japan has caused controversy at home and could jeopardise the newly formed government under the leadership of his sister, Yingluck.
Thaksin claimed that his Japan tour was primarily to assist in the reconstruction of two cities in the northeastern region devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. He was also scheduled to meet Japanese politicians and business leaders in Tokyo, although he holds no official position in the current Thai government led by the Puea Thai party.
The Japanese government had allowed Thaksin to enter the country following a request from the Thai government. The decision is seen as politically motivated since Japan's immigration control law prohibits the entry of a foreign national convicted of a crime and given a jail term of over a year. Thaksin was sentenced to two years' jail for corruption.
Japan's decision is explainable. The government's request for a full investigation into Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto's death during last year's violent crackdown by the Thai security forces against the red-shirt protesters got nowhere with the Abhisit Vejjajiva government. Hence, a visa for Thaksin was perhaps meant as a slap in the face for the previous regime.
Meanwhile, Thaksin wants to use his visit to retaliate against his enemies. Under the Abhisit government, the Thai foreign ministry was tasked to hunt down Thaksin. In so doing, it sought to block Thaksin's entry to foreign countries. But Puea Thai is now in power. Thaksin's world tour, with the next stop possibly Cambodia, underscores his ambition to return to politics as Thailand's de facto prime minister.
But his trip has created problems for the Yingluck administration. The opposition has accused it of protecting a 'criminal' by facilitating Thaksin's visit to Japan. Abhisit, now leader of the opposition party, is trying to impeach Foreign Minister Surapong Towijakchaikul for allegedly asking Tokyo to grant the visa. Surapong is Thaksin's cousin.
The political drama surrounding Thaksin's trip to Japan confirms that the Thai crisis is far from over. While in Japan this week, Thaksin said he has no intention to return home any time soon. But his actions demonstrate otherwise. The more Thaksin is involved in politics, the more he puts the Yingluck government in a difficult position.
Thaksin's enemies are waiting for the country's first female prime minister to make a mistake. His continued world tour will certainly provide the opportunity.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies