Thailand will issue a passport for fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra “very soon,” the government of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, his younger sister, said yesterday, in a move sure to anger the controversial ex-leader’s opponents.
Thaksin, who remains a hugely divisive figure, was deposed by the army in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile overseas to avoid a two-year prison term on a conviction for corruption that he contends is politically motivated.
He was stripped of his passport by the previous Thai government, but received citizenship from Montenegro last year, allowing him to travel internationally.
“When Thaksin’s passport was cancelled, there was no order from the courts or the police to seize it,” Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told reporters.
“So I will use my authority to do whatever is not illegal under the regulations of the ministry to give the passport to ex-premier Thaksin,” he said. “We are checking some more details, but it will be very soon. It will be a normal Thai passport. Let’s make a normal passport legally first. It doesn’t have to be a diplomat passport.”
The move will stoke tensions with Thaksin’s enemies, already irked by recent reports — denied by the government — of plans to see a royal pardon for the ex-premier that could allow him to return without serving time.
The opposition Democrat Party said it was not surprised by the decision to issue a new passport for Thaksin, saying that Surapong’s “only duty” as foreign minister was to help the fugitive ex-premier.
“If you look at his background, he has no knowledge of foreign languages, no foreign policy experience,” Democrat Party spokesperson Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said.
“He was appointed only to help Thaksin. It is the only thing he is good for and his only duty as foreign minister,” he said.
News of Thaksin’s new passport comes at a delicate time for Yingluck as the 44-year-old leader, who was a political novice before taking office in August, grapples with the fallout from devastating floods.
She was hospitalized earlier this week with diarrhea, fatigue, abdominal pain and nausea, but discharged after an overnight stay.
In the early days of his sister’s premiership, Thaksin appeared keen to boost his profile with controversial trips to Japan and Cambodia, but he has remained largely silent during the flooding.
Yingluck has not yet taken any legal action to clear the path for his return, and analysts have warned it would be risky for her to do so during the flood crisis, although the waters are now receding in many areas.