BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s government on Friday dismissed talk of a return from exile of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as “impossible,” saying a proposed amnesty floated by an opposition party would be illegal and unfair to all Thais.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the fugitive billionaire, who controls the opposition Puea Thai Party from his Dubai mansion, can return to Thailand only if he agreed to serve a two-year jail sentence for corruption.
“It is impossible to give him and his cronies an amnesty which each of our 65 million Thais would see as unconventional and unfair,” Suthep told reporters.
Thaksin’s youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has energised Puea Thai’s election campaign since entering the race one month ago and has made a general amnesty for Thais found guilty of political offences a key part of her campaign.
Opinion polls show Puea Thai leading Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat Party by comfortable margins and Yingluck appears to have captured her brother’s support base among many working class Thais.
Thaksin, who was elected twice in landslides before being overthrown in a 2006 coup, told Reuters in an interview in Dubai Thursday that he hoped to return to Thailand by December to attend his eldest daughter’s wedding.
Thaksin, who was accused of authoritarianism and abuse of power while in office, fled Thailand in 2008 before a court found him guilty of conflict of interest in connection with a lucrative land auction won by his then wife Potjaman Na Pombejra, while he was in power.
Suthep, a core Democrat Party member, said Thaksin should not be accorded special privileges that were above Thai law.
“I would like to stress that every Thai comes under the same law and no exception can be given to Mr Thaksin. If Miss Yingluck wants him to come back with that special privilege, I don’t think every Thai in this country will accept that.”
Asked if a Puea Thai victory would be interpreted as a public approval of a pardon for Thaksin, Suthep advised the public not to vote for the party.
“This is an issue that people now worry about and that is why people should not vote for Puea Thai, as such a decision would pave the way for his amnesty.”
Reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Vithoon Amorn; Editing by Martin Petty and Alex Richardson