Thailand’s imprisoned former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been allowed to remain in hospital for medical treatment, the country’s Department of Corrections said yesterday, claiming that a return to prison could endanger his life.
Thaksin, the spiritual leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, has been in hospital since his return from 15 years of self-imposed exile in August. Upon arrival in Bangkok he was immediately transferred to custody to serve an eight-year prison sentence on charges of abuse of power from during his time in power.
Within hours of arriving, however, Thaksin was transferred to Police General Hospital after complaining of chest tightness and high blood pressure. He has remained there ever since, and his sentence was subsequently reduced to one year by a royal pardon.
In a statement yesterday, the Department of Corrections said that the former PM was seriously ill and that a return to jail could endanger his life, the Bangkok Post reported. It said that the 74-year-old needed continuous treatment and observation for many illnesses that required close monitoring.
“If there is any complication or life-threatening symptom, treatment can be provided immediately,” the statement said.
After being elected twice by considerable margins, Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and left Thailand for good in 2008 to avoid facing prison on corruption charges that he claims were politically motivated.
The Department of Corrections has come under criticism for the extent of Thaksin’s health problems, with political opponents claiming that the former leader is being treated with kid gloves.
Thaksin’s return reflected a major realignment in Thai politics after last May’s general election, when the Move Forward Party (MFP) emerged as a more radical alternative to Pheu Thai. The MFP won the most seats at the election, on a radical platform that included pledges to reform the military, repeal the country’s controversial defamation law, and break up powerful business monopolies, but was blocked from forming government by the military-appointed Senate.
Pheu Thai subsequently formed a government under its candidate Srettha Thavisin in coalition with a number of conservative and military-backed parties. This paved the way for Thaksin’s return – on the very same day that Parliament voted to elevate Srettha as the country’s new prime minister.
This has prompted reasonable inferences that Thaksin’s extended hospital stay, like the royal pardon that slashed his prison sentence, reflects his political rehabilitation by the Thai conservative establishment. In other words, the charges against Thaksin, which were politically motivated if not wholly fictitious, have been diluted by similarly political means.
The statement came a day before planned protests at Government House over the government’s allegedly preferential treatment of Thaksin. Today will also see a visit to the hospital by a House committee seeking to verify Thaksin’s condition in response to the growing public skepticism. The Bangkok Post paraphrased a police spokesperson as saying that the visit could go ahead but that the lawmakers “would not be allowed on the 14th floor where the patient is said to be staying.”
Adding insult to injury, Thaksin could be eligible for parole on February 22, when he will have completed six months of his sentence. The fact that the charges against the former leader could be so easily made to disappear, along with the intense animosity with which his opponents pursued him after his flight into self-exile in 2008, only underscores the fact that the law is subordinate to power.