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Thaksin bailed as Thai courts embark on series of politically charged cases

Indictment of former PM, hearings against progressive parties, seen driven by rivalry with the conservative establishment.

Thaksin Shinawatra waves as he leaves Pheu Thai Party headquarters in Bangkok (EPA)Published On 18 Jun 202418 Jun 2024

A Thai court has bailed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra after he was indicted for insulting the royal family.

The decision on Tuesday that the influential billionaire would not be held in pre-trial detention was the first in a series of legal cases with the potential of significant political impact that have put Thailand on edge.

Prosecutors indicted Thaksin, who is closely connected with the Pheu Thai Party that leads the ruling coalition, under Thailand’s lese-majeste law. They said that he broke the kingdom’s strict legislation against insulting the royal family in comments made in a media interview in 2015.

“Today a state prosecutor indicted Thaksin Shinawatra and the court accepted the case,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

Thaksin, who denied all charges, was granted bail on a 500,000 baht ($13,580) bond and ordered not to leave the country without permission, court officials said. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for August 19.

The 74-year-old Thaksin was twice elected premier before being removed in a 2006 military putsch. He returned to Thailand last August after 15 years in self-exile, as Pheu Thai took power.

Rivalry

The case against Thaksin is viewed as inherently political given his close association with the ruling party.

Thai politics is dominated by rivalry between the conservative military pro-royalist elite and progressive parties such as Pheu Thai and the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP). This rift has previously triggered violent street protests, dissolutions of political parties, airport closures and military coups that have hamstrung the Thai economy.

The establishment has been accused of increasing use of the lese-majeste laws to hit at its opponents.

On Tuesday the Constitutional Court set a date of July 3 for a hearing against the MFP that was brought by the country’s election commission over its campaign to amend the laws. The case seeks to dissolve the party.

The party, which won last year’s election but was blocked by conservative politicians from forming a government, dropped its calls for reform after the Constitutional Court ruled in January that the demand amounted to an effort to overthrow the monarchy.

The MFP’s predecessor, the Future Forward Party, was dissolved by a court ruling after performing strongly in the 2019 election.

A date of July 10 was also set for hearings against Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

The real estate tycoon, who entered politics with the Pheu Thai party last year, faces potential dismissal following complaints from a group of 40 conservative military-appointed senators over the appointment of a lawyer who was imprisoned for contempt of court, to his cabinet.

Upper hand

The indictment and rulings offer the establishment the upper hand, suggest analysts.

“The lese-majeste case will continue to hang over Thaksin while the judgements for the prime minister and Move Forward are still quite a long way off, giving more time for the conservative establishment to come up with ways to deal with their perceived threats,” Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political science professor at Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani University told Reuters.

However, the Constitutional Court also ruled on Tuesday that the selection process for a new upper house, which started earlier this month, is lawful, clearing the way for 200 new politicians to take over from the military-appointed senate later this year.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies