SUNDAY, April 14, 2024

Improved political climate behind my return to Thailand: ex-red shirt leader

Improved political climate behind my return to Thailand: ex-red shirt leader

Former red shirt leader Jakrapob Penkair, who spent nearly 15 years in self-exile, said he made his decision to return to Thailand because of the improved political environment.

The vicious divide in Thai politics has reduced, compared to the situation in the past 15 years, Jakrapob said during an interview.

When asked if he would attribute the improvement in the political climate to the Pheu Thai Party joining forces with its military-backed former foes, he said it was just one part of the change. “The whole situation is improving massively and I cannot be more specific.”

“We realise that the major difference between then and now is that there is no direct interference in how we run the country. When I left the country, it was as if we had two governments – one elected by the people and another self-appointed, pitted against us, who was in charge of the administration,” he said.

Once a spokesman for the Thaksin Shinawatra’s regime and the PM’s Office Minister in Samak Sundaravej’s government, Jakrapob was also a key figure of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, widely known as the “red shirt movement”, which launched months of protests against then-PM Abhisit Vejjajiva in 2008.

Things came to a head after the resignation of Somchai Wongsawat, a brother-in-law of Thaksin, when he was removed from office by a Constitutional Court verdict, while his party, People Power, was found guilty of electoral fraud.

The events precipitated political turmoil both inside and outside Parliament. Several MPs who voted in favour of Abhisit’s candidacy for prime minister were previously politicians allied with Thaksin’s party.

After months of the protests, in the heart of Bangkok, paralysing the government, there was an armed crackdown on the red shirt protesters in April 2009, known as “Bloodshed Songkran”.

Jakrapob Penkair

Jakrapob left the country in 2009 after being accused of breaching the lese majeste law in a speech given at The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand in August 2007.

Prosecutors, however, decided to drop the lese majeste case against him in September 2011.

“I went out of the country with the intention of organising a movement that could support the movement inside the country. But after a few years, I realised that there were many incomplete elements on our side, and that we could not come together to constitute an effective movement, the way I wanted to make it,” he said.

Upon his arrival last Thursday, the former activist faced warrants for colluding in possessing weapons and ammunition without permission and illegal assembly. Assets worth 200,000 baht and 300,000 baht were used for bail in two separate cases.

When asked if his arrival would pave the way for other Thais who are living in self-exile to return, he said: “Yes, it could pave the way for people who are willing to come back, depending on each of those cases, and how they could defend themselves.”

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, more than a 100 people are living in exile since the 2014 coup.