Wednesday, April 21, 2010

For Former Thai Premier, Exile but Not Irrelevance

Thaksin Shinawatra is angry. “This is the worst political accusation I ever had,” Mr. Thaksin, a former prime minister, said Tuesday in a message delivered by a spokesman — sent, as always, from an undisclosed location abroad.

Behind the coils of barbed wire and battle-ready troops in the city’s financial district, someone has been poking fun at him, putting up signs that say, “Thaksin Shinawatra, president of a New Thai State.” It is a sensitive point for Mr. Thaksin and his red shirt movement, which has been accused of seeking to turn Thailand’s constitutional monarchy into a republic as it challenges the country’s established power structure.

After six weeks of paralyzing demonstrations calling for the government’s resignation and new elections, the red shirts have brought the country to a point of crisis. And although the streets remained quiet on Tuesday, the troops have been deployed to counter threats of a new confrontation.

The red shirt movement is founded on the political base Mr. Thaksin created within the country’s poor majority during his nearly six years in power.

In the annals of disgraced and exiled former leaders, Mr. Thaksin can take his place as one of the most persistent. Not only has he maintained and played to a core of die-hard supporters at home, but he has also helped build them into a powerful force that now threatens the survival of the government.

He was the first elected prime minister in Thailand ever to finish his term and the first to be re-elected. Three and a half years after being ousted in a coup, he remains the most influential — and most disruptive — political figure in Thailand.

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