Fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will end 15 years of self-exile by returning to Thailand next month, the billionaire's daughter said Wednesday, turning up the political heat just as his family's party scrambles to form a new government.
Thailand's only civilian prime minister to win back-to-back elections, Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and then fled overseas two years later to avoid prison for corruption convictions he says are politically motivated.
But Thaksin, 74, remains hugely influential as the figurehead of the Pheu Thai party.
The party placed second in elections in May but is now in a prime position to form a government after the election-winning Move Forward Party was blocked by an appointed Senate of army allies from leading an administration.
Thaksin's return is likely to anger royalist conservatives, who accuse the telecoms billionaire of dividing the kingdom with money, politics and corruption.
"I don't quite believe myself in what I'm about to type here," his daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra wrote on Instagram on Wednesday morning in announcing the shock return.
"You (dad) are coming back on August 10 at Don Muang airport…we are all dazzled, happy and also concerned but we've always respected your decision."
Thaksin has made several false promises of return before, while rumors of meetings in London, Hong Kong and Dubai with political allies and rivals have sporadically provoked intrigue about a possible deal to allow him back.
But Paetongtarn's post is the first time she has confirmed a date of his return.
Thaksin, a former policeman, is one of the most famous Southeast Asian politicians of the last two decades. He earned a reputation for smart economic management after helping pull Thailand from the depths of a 1997 financial crisis.
His populist "Thaksinomics" fueled a rural revival with pro-poor polices in health, including virtually free universal health care and education, as well as large subsidies.
The toppling of his government saw the birth of the "Red Shirt" protest movement which backed his family through several bloody rounds of street demonstrations as the establishment repeatedly took down Shinawatra-led or linked governments.
"Thailand is his home; he deserves to return to home," Paisal Janpan, a Red Shirt supporter based in Bangkok, told VOA. "I'm sure he will come back with his head held up high."
But Thaksin faces more than 10 years in prison for his convictions.
Thai media reports citing police said there are plans to take him straight into custody without saying how long he will be held.
"I wish good deeds will protect you, keep you safe so you can come home to send your grandchildren to school as you've always wanted to," Paetongtarn added.
Thaksin still has powerful enemies inside the establishment, many of whom have staked their reputations on "uprooting" the Shinawatra brand from Thailand.
"I guarantee you that he won't be held in jail, but in a hospital with air conditioning," Nipit Intarasombat, a renowned anti-Thaksin lawmaker now with the army-linked Phalang Pracharat party, said in a Facebook post in response to the news.
"People like Thaksin have thought about this over and over… but be warned that if you make a misstep, it could lead to death."
Two months after the last election, Thailand still does not have a new prime minister or government.
That has left the caretaker government of former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha in charge of the country, nine years after he staged a coup against the administration of Thaksin's sister Yingluck.
If Thaksin does return, he will enter a kingdom in the midst of a new political crisis.
The unelected Senate blocked Pita Limjaroenrat of the Move Forward Party from becoming prime minister. Pita was also suspended from parliament while a court considers his alleged media shareholding dealings, which could breach constitutional rules.
Speaking to CNN, Pita said his party could no longer form a government and therefore he supports "Thaksin Shinawatra's party" in its efforts to form a coalition.
"It's not just about a personal goal for me to become prime minister but it's to stop Thailand from a vicious cycle of military dictatorship," he added.
Pheu Thai is expected to propose that either property tycoon Srettha Thavisin or Paetongtarn becomes prime minister over the coming week.
But Pheu Thai will need to convince a large section of the Senate to get behind its candidate, a requirement that experts say may lead the party to split the pro-democracy bloc and abandon Move Forward.