Thailand’s exiled former PM hosts a wedding reception for his youngest daughter in Hong Kong… two days before his homeland holds its first general election in EIGHT YEARS
- Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by a 2006 military coup; Pheu Thai party of his loyalists is expected to capture most seats on Sunday
- Joined at wedding reception by Thai Princess Ubolratana Mahidol; she made abortive attempt last month to be PM candidate for party allied to Thaksin
- Parties for and against Thailand’s junta are rallying across Bangkok
- Generals who seized power in 2014 hope to hold on with help of military-appointed senators who can vote for prime minister
- Coup leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha made first appearance at rally for his Phalang Pracharat party
Thailand’s exiled former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, hosted a wedding reception for his youngest daughter in Hong Kong on Friday two days ahead of a general election in his homeland – the first one in eight years.
Although ostensibly a family affair with a raft of VIP guests, the ceremony’s timing seemed to carry an implicit message to Thaksin’s countrymen back in Thailand: Don’t forget me and my political allies when you go out to vote.
Thaksin was ousted by a 2006 military coup. However, the Pheu Thai party of his loyalists is still expected to capture the most seats in Sunday’s polls.
Parties for and against Thailand’s junta are rallying across Bangkok as election fever grips the country ahead of the first poll in eight years.
Thailand’s exiled former PM, Thaksin Shinawatra, hosted a wedding reception for his youngest daughter in Hong Kong on Friday – two days ahead of a general election in his homeland. He is seen arriving at the reception with Thai Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, who made an abortive attempt last month to be a prime ministerial candidate for a political party allied to Thaksin
Although ostensibly a family affair with a raft of VIP guests, the ceremony’s timing seemed to carry an implicit message to Thaksin’s countrymen back in Thailand: Don’t forget me and my political allies when you go out to vote. (Above, Thaksin welcomes guests to the reception)
Also absent at the nuptials in Bangkok but present in Hong Kong was Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra (pictured at the reception), who like her brother was ousted from the prime minister’s job in 2014 and also fled into exile to avoid a prison sentence
A farmer points at an image of Thaksin Shinawatra on a calendar in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. Although Thaksin is banned from interfering in Thailand’s politics, his name is a powerful political attraction. In tribute, and to win votes, some candidates have changed their names to Thaksin so his supporters can register their loyalty at the ballot box
The generals who seized power in 2014 are hoping to hold on through the ballot box with the help of military-appointed senators who can vote for prime minister, and coup leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha made his first appearance at a rally for his Phalang Pracharat party.
But he faces several parties linked to the influential Shinawatra family, which has won every election since 2001.
Thai Princess Ubolratana Mahidol made an abortive attempt last month to be a prime ministerial candidate for a political party allied to Thaksin. And she was a special guest at the wedding reception on Friday.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha greets supporters during a pro-junta Palang Pracharath Party’s general election rally campaign in Bangkok on Friday
The generals who seized power in 2014 are hoping to hold on through the ballot box with the help of military-appointed senators who can vote for prime minister, and coup leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha made his first appearance at a rally for his Phalang Pracharat party (pictured, his supporters).
Thaksin has not been back to Thailand since 2008, when he fled the country to escape serving a prison term for a conflict of interest conviction he insists was politically motivated.
Thailand is broadly divided between pro-Shinawatra factions and an elite aligned with the military, which has portrayed itself as a stabilising force and defender of the country’s monarchy.
But loyalties are more complex now with more than 7million first-time voters aged 18-25 and new parties in the mix.
- Military vehicles appear on the streets after Thailand’s… Thailand will hold its first election since the 2014 coup…
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The most prominent is Future Forward, led by charismatic frontman Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a 40-year-old billionaire popular with millennials.
Thousands of young Future Forward supporters decked out in the country’s trademark orange colours waved flags and glow sticks at a stadium in Bangkok Friday night ahead of Thanathorn’s appearance, as their hero prepped backstage.
‘You win the ideas first and then you win the war and then you can change,’ Thanathorn told reporters before his speech.
A Thai woman passes posters of Pheu Chart party’s Veerawit Chuajunud (left), who changed his name to Thaksin Chuajunud, and Pracha Pracharat Party’s candidate and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (left on right poster), during an election campaign in Nakhon Ratchasima
Political buzz galvanised multiple rallies across the Thai capital as the sun went down.
Even the famously gruff Prayut, the army man who led the 2014 putsch, took to the stage in Bangkok.
General election contested by 70 parties
More than 70 parties are contesting Sunday’s general election in Thailand, the first since a military coup nearly five years ago.
Up for grabs are 500 seats in the House of Representatives, where parties will need to win at least 25 seats to be able to nominate their preferred candidate for prime minister.
The prime minister will be chosen in a joint vote of members of the elected house and the unelected senate, whose 250 members will all be appointed by the junta after the general election.
Wearing a white shirt and slacks and holding roses, he ascended the stage and spoke for about five minutes, jabbing his finger to punctuate points.
‘Thank you for all the support given me, I will give back with my life and my heart,’ he said.
But it remains to be seen whether his Phalang Pracharat can make a dent in the electoral machine of Pheu Thai, the Thaksin-affiliated party that still taps loyalty from the poor but populous rural north and northeast.
‘They are strong with all people,’ said Sharpay Janperng, 26, manager at an education company, at a packed rally for the party.
Pheu Thai’s top candidate for prime minister, Sudarat Keyuraphan, told the crowd that ‘happiness and a good economy depend on your pen.’
Future Forward and Pheu Thai, whose rallies were held 100 metres apart, both oppose the junta. But pro-democracy forces need to overcome the built-in advantage of the 250 appointed senators.
That means Phalang Pracharat and other military-aligned parties need only 126 votes in the 500-seat Lower House to elect a prime minister.
Thaksin’s youngest daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, got married to Pidok Sooksawas, a pilot at a commercial airline (pictured)
In a thinly veiled jibe at the stacked deck, Thai hip-hop sensation Rap Against Dictatorship, whose last anti-junta song racked up nearly 60million views on YouTube, named their next release ‘250 sycophants’.
By contrast, Pheu Thai would need to cobble together 376 votes to gain the upper hand.
That raises the prospect of a long road ahead of political horsetrading after preliminary results are announced Sunday night.
Analysts believe the loyalties of Bhumjaithai, which finished third in 2011 and is run by the fantastically wealthy Anutin Charnvirakul, will be in high demand.
Anutin said Friday his party would support a ‘stability’ government but is leaving his options open.
Thaksin, a billionaire telecoms mogul, has been in self-exile since 2008 to avoid a jail term on corruption charges. But he still sits at the heart of Thailand’s politics.
Earlier this month the dissolution of one of his parties – Thai Raksa Chart – hampered an election strategy to cobble together votes under a party list system.
Thai Raksa Chart had proposed Princess Ubolratana as its candidate for premier, but King Maha Vajiralongkorn struck down the move calling it ‘highly inappropriate’.
Thaksin the populist beams in to wedding through a video link
Thailand’s conservative establishment hates Thaksin because of the electoral strength he drew from the country’s poor and rural majority with his populist programs.
This meant he was not able to attend the actual marriage ceremony in Thailand last Sunday of his youngest daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, and Pidok Sooksawas, a pilot at a commercial airline.
Thaksin was however able to beam in through a video link – a method he frequently used to talk to his followers in the early years of his exile.
Also absent at the nuptials in Bangkok but present in Hong Kong was Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who like her brother was ousted from the prime minister’s job in 2014 and also fled into exile to avoid a prison sentence.
Although Thaksin could not attend his daughter’s actual ceremony, he was able to beam in through a video link – a method he frequently used to talk to his followers in the early years of his exile
Thaksin’s daughter Pintongtha ‘Aim’ and her husband Nattapong ‘Pong’ Kunakornwong welcome guests at the wedding of Thaksin’s youngest daughter Paetongtarn ‘Ing’ Shinawatra at a hotel in Hong Kong on Friday
A video posted on Instagram by a guest at Friday’s reception showed the bride, evidently referring to her father, telling guests that: ‘You know the reason why I, we, have this wedding this far away from our hometown. It’s because home is where your heart is, and my heart is right here.’
Reporters hovering outside the entrance to Hong Kong’s Rosewood Hotel were able to shout a few questions to Thaksin as he escorted guests inside, but received only brief answers. He said he was ‘very happy’ in English, and when asked in Thai how he felt about the elections, replied ‘I don’t know yet.’
Thaksin beamed as he walked Princess Ubolratana into the luxury hotel, which overlooks Victoria Harbor.
Ubolratana caused an uproar when the pro-Thaksin Thai Raksa Chart Party registered her as its nominee for prime minister in an unprecedented move for a member of the royal family, which by tradition stays above politics.
Reporters hovering outside the entrance to Hong Kong’s Rosewood Hotel were able to shout a few questions to Thaksin as he escorted guests inside, but received only brief answers. He said he was ‘very happy’ in English, and when asked in Thai how he felt about the elections, replied ‘I don’t know yet’
The move was seen as a clever ploy by Thaksin’s political machine to immunize itself against charges that it opposed the monarchy, an allegation that conservative Thais had hurled at the ambitious businessman-politician.
However, it turned into a disaster for Thai Raksa Chart when only hours later, Ubolratana’s younger brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, declared that the nomination was extremely inappropriate and unconstitutional.
In short order, the state Election Commission rejected the nomination, and a court dissolved the party and imposed a 10-year ban on political activity by its executive board.
Disbanding Thai Raksa Chart was a bow to Thaksin’s political allies because it was hoped the party would add parliamentary seats to the total accrued by the flagship Pheu Thai party.
Members of the disbanded party, along with other allies of Thaksin, attended Friday’s wedding reception.
Thaksin made a fortune in the telecommunications sector before going into politics, and even though Thai authorities seized a big chunk of his wealth, he remains a globetrotting businessman based in Dubai, though the extent and details of his holdings are unclear.
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