Thailand Paroles an Influential Former Prime Minister

Thailand’s ousted former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, a leader once seen as a threat to the country’s wealthy elite, was released on parole on Sunday, after spending only a fraction of his original eight-year prison term in detention — in a hospital.

Mr. Thaksin, who was removed in a coup and spent years in exile, made a stunning return to Thailand last year. He had been convicted in absentia on charges of corruption and abuse of power, and promptly sentenced when he was back in the country. But days later, the king commuted Mr. Thaksin’s sentence to one year, fueling speculation that he had struck a deal with powerful royalists. Last week, the authorities said he would be paroled soon.

A billionaire businessman, Mr. Thaksin remains one of Thailand’s most influential politicians. Analysts say he is unlikely to formally re-enter politics but could still play a significant role behind the scenes in the governing political party, Pheu Thai, the third incarnation of one of Mr. Thaksin’s political parties.

On Sunday morning, television footage showed Mr. Thaksin, in a neck brace, leaving the Police General Hospital in a car, along with his two daughters. A banner with the words “Welcome home” and “We’ve been waiting for this day for so, so long” was seen hanging at the front gate of his house in western Bangkok.

For many Thais, Mr. Thaksin’s parole was just the latest example of the two-tier justice system in the country, where the wealthy enjoy special treatment not given to the ordinary people. In a statement, the opposition Move Forward Party said Mr. Thaksin’s release raised questions of “double standards” and “supporting the privilege of a certain person over the rule of law.”

Move Forward officials have also questioned how much sway Mr. Thaksin would have over the current government. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin suggested he remains in charge.

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