Thaksin Shinawatra: Former Prime Minister of Thailand accused of insulting the king

Image source, Getty Images

Photo Title, Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand last year after 15 years in exile

  • Author, Jonathan Head
  • Role, Southeast Asia correspondent
  • Reporting from Bangkok, Thailand

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will be charged with insulting the monarchy, the attorney general said.

The controversial political leader, who returned to Thailand last year after 15 years in exile, is facing charges over an interview he gave to a Korean newspaper nine years ago.

He is the most high-profile figure to be charged under Thailand’s notorious lese majeste law, which has been widely used against political dissidents.

Hundreds of people have been charged in the past four years alone.

Thaksin’s return to the country, a towering figure in Thai politics, appeared to end the bitter political rivalry between his family and conservative groups that feared his populist leadership style.

In what appeared to be a grand bargain, his party was allowed to form a coalition government with some political opponents to stop the young reformist Move Forward party, which won the most votes and seats in the 2023 elections.

But the decision to prosecute the 74-year-old former prime minister under the draconian lese majeste law shows he still has enemies in Thailand’s powerful royalist establishment.

The allegations related to an interview he gave to a Korean newspaper in 2015 while in exile.

In that article, he accused the king’s top advisory body, the Privy Council, of helping orchestrate the 2014 military coup that overthrew the administration led by his sister Yingluck.

Yingluck Shinawatra, elected in the 2011 general election, led Thailand for three years before being ousted in a coup.

Photo Title, On Wednesday, prosecutors announced the indictment in Bangkok

Technically, the Privy Council is not covered by lese majeste law, but it is now often interpreted broadly to include any opinion that may have a negative impact on the royal family.

More than 270 people have been legally charged since mass protests four years ago, during which the monarchy was subjected to unprecedented public criticism.

Mr. Thaksin’s lawyers say they are confident they will defend him in court; however, in the typically extended period leading up to a likely trial, an indictment may force him to curtail his political ambitions.