Exiled former PM says generals should retire ‘with dignity’, reiterates plan to come home in July
Former premier Thaksin Shinawatra on Tuesday hailed the election-winning Move Forward Party as disruptors who had mastered social media, and said the ageing army generals central to years of turmoil should retire with dignity.
The self-exiled tycoon also waded into the growing debate over the sensitive lese-majeste law, which Move Forward wants to amend, saying Pheu Thai would not back any action that could harm the monarchy.
Move Forward, he said in a Clubhouse chat on Tuesday, proved that social media and user-generated content (UGC) can triumph over big-spending campaigns and vote-buying.
Before Sunday’s vote, the populist political juggernaut founded by Thaksin had won every election since 2001, despite being ousted from office three times. On Sunday it won 11 seats less than Move Forward, which received 14.2 million votes for party-list MPs, versus 10.8 million for Pheu Thai. Even in several provinces where it did not win many constituencies, Move Forward won more list votes than any other party.
“They used UGC on TikTok because the youngsters use TikTok. It’s getting votes and canvassers organically and you don’t use a lot of resources,” Thaksin said during a two-hour political discussion streamed online.
Move Forward had strong appeal and organisation in university towns, he said, adding many young people convinced their parents to vote for Move Forward.
“Pheu Thai got hammered because we did not disrupt ourselves enough. Move Forward’s trend overcame Pheu Thai and the other parties that had money,” he said.
Move Forward rode a wave of excitement among young people attracted to its liberal agenda and promises of bold change, including tackling monopolies and amending a law that prescribes long jail sentences for insulting the monarchy, long a taboo issue.
Pheu Thai has agreed to form a six-party alliance with Move Forward, hoping more will join to keep the defeated pro-military parties out of government.
Thaksin still wields significant influence over the second-ranked party despite being in exile for 17 years to avoid a jail sentence for abuse of power, which he denies. He reiterated his plan to return to Thailand in July and asked about prison said: “Whatever will be, will be.”
He also pledged loyalty to the palace and stressed Pheu Thai would not back any actions by Move Forward that would have a negative impact on the monarchy.
Move Forward and Pheu Thai on Sunday trounced the parties fronted by Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, who led the 2014 coup that ousted the government of Thaksin’s sister Yingluck.
No ‘secret deal’
Thaksin dismissed speculation of a secret deal with one of those generals to form a government, calling it an attempt to discredit Pheu Thai using online trolls. He said it was an “information operation” (IO) and hinted that Move Forward might have had something to do with it, something the party strenuously denied.
He also noted that Move Forward even won support in districts with large concentrations of rank-and-file soldiers, highlighting generational differences over the military’s political role.
“For the two uncles, it should be enough is enough,” he said, referring to Gen Prawit and Gen Prayut. “Hanging up your gloves has dignity.
“It’s a wake-up call for the army. Using excessive power is something Thai society rejects. So it added to Move Forward’s currency.”
Meanwhile, he distanced his family from Move Forward’s plans to ease rules outlawing criticism of the royal family.
“The stance of the Pheu Thai Party and the Shinawatra family is we respect and love the institution of the monarchy,” Thaksin said, responding to a question about how the party doesn’t touch issues on the royal family.
“How others perceive it is not something I can control. I am who I am, and I am open to criticism because I’m not fighting to do anything bad to the monarchy. I’m only fighting for political wins.”
Thaksin’s stance draws a line in the sand on an issue that has faced staunch resistance within the political establishment. While pro-democracy groups like Pheu Thai are eager to return to government, they’re also cautious not to provoke a strong reaction from military factions that led two coups against them in the past decade.
Move Forward aims to propose two key amendments to Section 112. One would reduce the current harsh sentences, currently three to 15 years’ imprisonment. The second would require that only the Bureau of the Royal Household could file a royal defamation complaint. Currently, anyone can file a complaint against anyone else and police must investigate it.
Finally, Thaksin reiterated that he was ready to return home, even if it means doing jail time.
“I’ve made my decision. I don’t care about anything else,” he said, reiterating earlier remarks that he plans to come home in July. “I’ve been overseas for 17 years, it’s like being in a big prison.”