(AP)- Deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will return to Thailand from 17 months in exile Thursday to fight corruption charges, his lawyer said. His critics warned the homecoming could plunge the country into political crisis.
The prospect of Thaksin’s imminent return sent shock waves through the country’s political circles, prompting the new prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, to call for calm. “I want to urge the Thai people not to be concerned,” Samak told reporters. “I do not anticipate any unwanted incidents. There will be no chaos.”
Samak and his People’s Power Party, which is packed with Thaksin allies, won Dec. 23 general elections. The polls were the first since military leaders ousted Thaksin in a September 2006 coup, accusing him of corruption and abuse of power.
Thaksin was abroad during the coup and has lived overseas since then, mostly in London and Hong Kong. He said earlier this year he planned to return in April to fight corruption charges.
On Tuesday, Thaksin’s official Web site posted a picture of the deposed prime minister with his right hand raised giving the victory sign, superimposed over an image of Bangkok’s international airport as fireworks exploded overhead.
It urged supporters to greet Thaksin at the airport at 9 a.m. Thursday.
“Welcome home Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom we love, miss and have been waiting to return for over a year,” the Web site said in Thai.
The chief of Thaksin’s legal defense team, Pichit Chuenban, said the Thursday return date “is confirmed.”
“We are ready for his return,” he told The Associated Press.
Pichit said Thaksin will surrender to police when he arrives and will seek his release on bail.
Thaksin and his wife Pojaman face corruption and conflict of interest charges in connection with her purchase of prime Bangkok real estate from a state agency in 2003, while he was prime minister. Pojaman returned to Thailand in January and was released on bail pending trial.
Thaksin also faces separate charges of concealing assets. Rakkiat Wattapong, the Supreme Court secretary general, said Monday that Thaksin would be detained when he arrives in Thailand.
Coup leaders who toppled Thaksin attempted unsuccessfully to dismantle his political legacy.
After the coup, Thaksin’s former ruling Thai Rak Thai party was disbanded by court order. He and his party’s 110 executive members were barred from holding public office for five years.
But many Thaksin allies regrouped to form PPP, which vowed during campaigning to bring back Thaksin and clear his name. Thaksin retains widespread popularity among the rural majority who benefited from his populist policies, like cheap health care and low-interest loans.
Samak and his party have since distanced themselves from the remarks, vowing to abide by the law but their actions have indicated a strong allegiance to Thaksin.
The new Cabinet is packed with allies and relatives of Thaksin, who have been heavily criticized by the media and public as unqualified, unsuitable and tainted by corruption charges.
The government also recently removed the head of the Division of Special Investigation, which is in charge of several cases against Thaksin, and appointed a Thaksin ally in his place.
The People’s Alliance for Democracy, which spearheaded months of anti-Thaksin demonstrations before the coup, said it will fight any attempt by the new government to intervene with the judiciary.
“PAD is warning this government the political crisis will be worse than in 2006 if it continues to whitewash the charges against Thaksin,” PAD spokesman Suriyasai Takasila said. “Thousands will take to the streets again if Thaksin returns and does not face trial in court in accordance with the law.”
The head of the opposition Democrat Party, Abhisit Vejjajeva, predicted “chaos” if the government intervenes in Thaksin’s corruption cases.
“The government should not intervene with the judicial process,” Abhisit said, urging “everyone involved not to use this as a condition to stir chaos and violence.”