Judgement day for former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra

October 21st, 2008 - 4:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, Oct 21 (DPA) Thailand’s Supreme Court was poised Tuesday to make a pivotal ruling for Thailand’s political stability as it began reading its verdict in an abuse of power case involving former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.Judges of the Supreme Court for Political Office Holders are to decide whether Thaksin abused his position as prime minister in 2003 in allowing his wife, Pojaman, to bid on 5.3 hectares of land in central Bangkok at a government auction.

The prime piece of real estate was awarded to Pojaman for 772 million baht ($22.7 million), the highest of three bids.

If found guilty, Thaksin and his wife could face up to 10 years in prison.

The former first couple are living in self-imposed exile in London, where they fled Aug 10, days after the Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced her to three years in jail for tax evasion.

Thaksin - who was toppled in a bloodless military coup in September 2006 on accusations of mass corruption, dividing the nation and undermining the institutions of democracy and the monarchy - has yet to be found guilty in a court.

If found guilty Tuesday, it would increase the likelihood of Thaksin and his family staying abroad indefinitely to avoid jail sentences in Thailand.

Thaksin, a former billionaire telecommunications tycoon who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, remains a divisive figure in Thai society.

Thaksin introduced populist policies to Thailand’s long tradition of money politics, winning himself a strong following among the country’s rural and urban poor, many of whom continue to see him as their champion.

Despite living in exile, Thaksin is known to be the prime mover behind the People Power Party (PPP), which leads the current government and came to power in December general elections on an unabashedly pro-Thaksin platform.

The possibility of a Thaksin political comeback has prompted the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), an alliance of anti-government groups, to hold protests in Bangkok since May, culminating with its seizure in August of Government House, the seat of the executive branch of the government.

Despite the protestors’ increasingly illegal behaviour, the government has been powerless to end the PAD demonstrations, which have the backing of powerful figures within the Bangkok political elite

A government crackdown on the PAD on Oct 7, which left two PAD followers dead and more than 400 injured, prompted the commander-in-chief of Thailand’s army, General Anupong Pasojinda, to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat as a show of responsibility for the violence.

Somchai, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, has so far turned down the general’s suggestion.

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