Sun, Mar 24, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Exiled Thai leader hosts wedding before vote

AP, HONG KONG

Thai Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, left, arrives at the Rosewood Hotel escorted by exiled former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Hong Kong on Friday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Exiled former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will not know until today whether people in his homeland are still fans of his politics, but he was happy on Friday as he hosted a wedding reception for his youngest daughter in Hong Kong.

Though ostensibly a family affair with a raft of VIP guests, the ceremony’s timing two days ahead of Thailand’s general election seemed to carry an implicit message to Thaksin’s countrymen: Do not forget me and my political allies when you vote.

Thai Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, who made an abortive attempt last month to be a prime ministerial candidate for a political party allied to Thaksin, was a special guest. Although Thaksin was ousted by a 2006 military coup, the Pheu Thai Party of his loyalists is expected to capture the most seats in today’s polls.

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’s conservative establishment hates him because of the electoral strength he drew from the country’s poor and rural majority with his populist programs.

He was not able to attend the actual marriage ceremony in Thailand on Sunday last week of his youngest daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, and Pidok Sooksawas, a pilot at a commercial airline. However, he beamed 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.

A video posted on Instagram by a guest at Friday’s reception showed the bride, evidently referring to her father, telling guests: “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, he said: “I don’t know yet.”

However, in a video shown on the Web site of Thailand’s Matichon newspaper group, Thaksin did talk briefly about politics in remarks to the crowd at the reception.

The wedding reception had long been planned for March 22, but the election had been provisionally scheduled for Feb. 24.

Had the election taken place before the reception, the room would not have been big enough to hold all the well-wishers and guests because the parties loyal to Thaksin “will win for sure,” he said.

“Thailand has been taking away rights, lacking opportunities, for five years,” he said. “Now Thailand is longing for the election. It is time for the Thai people who have been wanting to see freedom, wanting to see the economy prosperous again, wanting to see confidence from investors.”

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