The ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra inspires both devotion and revulsion in Thailand. Opposition pressure forced him from power in 2006, though his aura has proved resilient.
Most of his support comes from rural voters and the urban poor. Opposition to Thaksin is rooted in the urban middle classes and elite. The People’s Alliance for Democracy, or PAD, the protest movement, swears he is corrupt.
The last straw, which propelled protesters into the street, was the tax-free sale of Thaksin family shares in the telecoms group Shin Corporation.
The PAD-led protests built momentum towards the 2006 coup against Thaksin. Military backing helped boot him out of office, held since 2001. The generals promised to swiftly restore civilian rule.
Thaksin was at the UN in New York at the time. He did not go home. He moved into an English mansion, and bought Manchester City football club. Yet none of this hurt his standing with some of the poorest people in Thailand.
Brother-in-law Samak Sundaravej won elections after the coup, and this encouraged Thaksin to go back. Touchdown was in February this year, but he did not stay long, even though he promised to stay off the front lines of politics.
The courts were waiting for him and Mrs. Thaksin. Both were convicted in fraud cases and sentenced to prison terms. But the couple slipped away and again caught a jet for Britain. Even though exiled, the former premier’s influence over Thai politics remains.