Thailand’s fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is expected to arrive in Phnom Penh late Friday for his first visit in more than a year. It follows the visit of his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who undertook her first visit to Cambodia on Thursday in a bid to get relations between the two neighbors back on track.
Multi-millionaire politician Thaksin Shinawatra is a friend of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and is widely viewed as the driving force behind Thailand’s new governing party, even though he has no official position in the government.
Phnom Penh insists that Thaksin has no authority to discuss issues of bilateral importance - something government spokesman Phay Siphan says Hun Sen stressed earlier this week.
“Because Thaksin [is] not competent in the Thai government - he’s a private person only," said Phay Siphan. "He’s no longer a prime minister advisor, but we still respect him as a private resource.”
Cambodian officials insist that Thaksin’s visit a day after his sister is merely a coincidence. Phay Siphan says Thaksin is here to deliver two speeches.
“Well he [is going to share with Cambodia about economy," he said. "And he’s going to be giving a speech on ASEAN’s future within the economy sector. So he has two forums - one which is internal to the government to reform the Cambodian economy. And the second one is going to share with the others - the former leaders in ASEAN or with researchers and stuff like that - he [will] speak on the future of ASEAN.”
Ousted in 2006
Thaksin was ousted as prime minister in 2006 in a military coup and found guilty in 2008 on corruption charges. He now lives in Dubai, a legacy of a two-year jail term that Thaksin says was politically motivated.
Coming to Cambodia is an opportunity to meet with his supporters from Thailand.
Thaksin still draws intense emotions in Thailand, where political opponents strongly oppose his return and remain suspicious that the ruling party will try to grant him amnesty.
However the election victory of his sister Yingluck Shinawatra in July appears to have drained the energy from his political opponents for now.
In central Bangkok Friday, about 100 people gathered to denounce his trip to Cambodia.
“Thaksin and Hun Sen are two of a kind. He’s a criminal, "said a protester.
Nationalist protesters in Thailand routinely denounce Cambodia because of an ongoing border dispute around an ancient Khmer Hindu temple. Thailand’s Yingluck and Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed Thursday to try to reduce tensions on the disputed border by abiding by July’s International Court order on the issue.
They also agreed to resume previously stalled talks on a range of issues, including resolving their mutual claims to the oil and gas reserves in the Gulf of Thailand and demarcating stretches of their common land border.