"Montesquieu once said 'There is no crueller tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice'," Thaksin Shinawatra tweeted on August 29, 2017. Thaksin broke his two-year silence on Twitter by issuing the tweet in both English and Thai which quoted the 18th century French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu. The tweet went viral on Thai social media and has been retweeted 11,700 times to-date. It has also garnered 752 comments and 8,200 likes – within just 15 days.
The former Thai prime minister hit out at the junta army’s "tyranny" via an ambiguous tweet after his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra failed to appear for her hearing before the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Offices on August 25, 2017. She is believed to have fled the country to join her brother Thaksin who lives in a self-imposed exile in Dubai.
As she failed to appear in court, the court was forced to delay its ruling and issued a warrant for her arrest. If she had been convicted in the final hearing, she would have to face a maximum jail term of 10 years and a lifetime ban from politics. According to AFP (Agence France-Presse), analysts said the “junta military leadership were concerned that jailing Yingluck would afford her martyr status and might reinvigorate her supporters” which is why they let her slip away.
Thaksin, through his Twitter, was hurling subtle insults at the rulers of the military junta military who were responsible for overthrowing the Shinawatra siblings from their position as Thailand's prime minister through military coups in 2006 and 2014 respectively. After the coup, Thaksin fled overseas in 2008 to avoid prosecution. The period since then was dubbed the "Lost Decade", which saw Thailand plunging into an age of political turmoil filled with protests and unrests.
Thaksin was the first democratically elected prime minister of Thailand to serve a full four-year term while winning the re-election. He was elected in 2001 and was re-elected in 2005 with an overwhelming victory where a single party – the Thai Rak Thai Party – won more than half of the seats in the Thai parliament during the historical election.
Throughout Thaksin’s tenure as prime minister, he rolled out policies on universal healthcare, debt relief and farming subsides, addressing issues faced by the rural and urban poor which had appealed him to the regular Thais. As a result, he gained strong support from the "Red-Shirts", who were mainly comprised of farmers from the Shinawatras' northern rural stronghold and Bangkok's working class. However, his administration was never short of political chaos (coups, court cases and protests) with continuous oppositions from the Junta leadership as well as the citizens’ movement called People’s Alliance for Democracy, or better known as the "Yellow-Shirts". They were primarily made up of Bangkok's royalist middle classes and allies of the city's business and military elites.
Here is a summary of Thaksin's rise and fall in Thai politics:
A brief history of the rise and fall of Thaksin Shinawatra.
Recently, the National Anti-Corruption Commission charged Yingluck for corruption and criminal negligence in the rice-pledging scheme – a government initiative that was practised for years in order to control the prices of rice during the harvest season in November.
Thaksin's daughter Paetongtarn reposted her father's tweet on her Instagram account on August 30, 2017 which garnered 10,300 likes and 720 comments to-date. One of the comments came from Princess Ubolratana, the daughter of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit, in which she wrote "I agree!!! Su Su.” Su when translated into English from Thai, means fight.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a former Thai diplomat and an academic at Kyoto University in Japan told AFP "that tweet after so long reflects Thaksin's anger. I suspect Yingluck and Thaksin will continue to find a political space in Thailand from overseas and they want to take revenge on their enemies.”
Following her disappearance, Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon updated the media on the investigation, stating that Yingluck's convoy was last seen on CCTV at a military checkpoint in the Sa Kaeo Province, bordering Cambodia and Thailand. However, the Cambodian government has not made any public announcement as to whether she crossed the border.
According to AFP, the Thai junta has been heavily criticised by some of its conservative allies over Yingluck's disappearance, with many questioning how the authoritarian regime could have let her go despite the 24-hour tight surveillance.
General Chalermchai Sitthisad of the Royal Thai army spoke to the media offering insights into how military intelligence kept track of Yingluck. "As of now we learnt that she abandoned all of her phones and changed her cars so it was hard to trace her using the same methods we did before," he said. Chalermchai said officers had been withdrawn from guarding her Bangkok house following public allegations that the tight surveillance was violating her personal rights and intimidating her. Chalermchai opined that it was unlikely Yingluck would have flown directly out of Thailand given the security procedures at airports – even for private flights. Instead, he said, a land or sea exit was highly probable.
In its first statement since their leader’s disappearance, the Pheu Thai Party vowed to stay together and push for a democratic Thailand despite losing its figurehead. "The party believes the former prime minister will explain to the public her decision to flee at the proper time," the statement said.