from the August 13, 2008 edition
They never made it.
Instead, Mr. Thaksin – a twice-elected leader once touted as a regional statesman – and his wife, Pojamarn Shinawatra, fled to
Thaksin's latest exit may signal the endgame in a drawn-out political struggle that has divided
Few political observers will rule out an eventual return by Thaksin, a self-made millionaire whose tenacity and ambition have proved hard to contain. But the legal noose closing around his family, including a July 31 conviction of Ms. Pojamarn for tax evasion, will likely keep him at bay for now and could lead to a realignment of dueling political forces, say analysts.
"Without Thaksin, people can talk. I think there's a feeling that we should have a new beginning," says Kasit Piromya, a former ambassador to the
Thaksin loyalists look elsewhere
In recent months, thousands of street protesters have called for the downfall of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his pro-Thaksin People's Power Party (PPP). This opposition movement is popular with middle-class voters and royalist elites in
Protest leaders say they will continue their daily rallies, as Thaksin's exit doesn't mean the end of his influence. But his absence may sap their momentum.
Election-fraud investigations against the PPP and two other parties in the ruling coalition have already cast doubt over its staying power. By removing himself from the scene, Thaksin may trigger a stampede for the exits as lawmakers plot their future.
"You can see that within the political class, there are some true believers [in Thaksin]. But there's an awful lot of others who went with him because he was the man of the moment," says Chris Baker, a historian who co-wrote a critical Thaksin biography.
The result could be a mass defection of ruling-party members of parliament to the opposition Democrat Party, the flag-bearer for traditional elites aligned with the powerful monarchy. Another scenario is a snap election called to head off the threat of a court-ordered breakup of PPP.
"If Samak can hold the party together and strike the right compromises with Thaksin's antagonists, maybe his government will last. But most people are betting it won't," says Michael Montesano, an independent political analyst in
During his previous spell in exile that ended in February, Thaksin divided his time between
"What happened to me and my family and my close relations resulted from efforts to get rid of me from politics," Thaksin wrote in his note, according to The Associated Press. Thaksin also claimed that he and his family faced death threats in
Two weeks ago, the family sat glumly in a courtroom in
Pojamarn was critical in shaping Thaksin's political rise, from stints in short-lived coalitions in the 1990s to an election win in 2001. But irregularities in an asset declaration brought him that year before the
Critics say Thaksin's brush with the judiciary led him to steadily dismantle independent checks on his elected power, which grew after a 2005 landslide reelection on the back of a resurgent economy. Opponents began to rally against his government, paving the way for a bloodless coup in 2006.
A slew of official investigations into corruption that began under the military-installed government have begun to chip away at Thaksin's chance of a political comeback.
The respected judiciary might also be succeeding where