Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Friday he is ready to return and serve his prison term in Thailand provided he is allowed to spend the remainder of his life with his family, regardless of the results of an upcoming general election.
Speaking in an interview with Kyodo News during a trip to Tokyo, Thaksin said he is biding his time before possibly going back this year, following years of living in self-exile abroad. He was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and left Thailand in 2008 to avoid facing time in prison.
"Now I've served 16 years already in the big jail because they prevent me from staying with my family," Thaksin said, referring to his life away from his home country. "I've suffered enough. If I were to suffer again in the smaller jail, it is OK."
"It is not really the price I need to pay but I pay because I want to stay with my grandchildren. I should spend the rest of my life with my children and my grandchildren," the 73-year-old said.
The populist billionaire, who served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, expressed confidence that the Pheu Thai Party, a Thaksin-aligned opposition party, will win the May 14 election by achieving a majority in the lower house.
His second and youngest daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, 36, is expected to be one of three prime ministerial candidates from Pheu Thai.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha dissolved the lower house on March 20 to pave the way for the general election. The former coup leader, who first came to power in 2014 by toppling a Pheu Thai-led civilian government, has also announced his bid to remain premier after the election.
The former business tycoon left Thailand in August 2008 before the Supreme Court sentenced him in absentia to two years in jail for a conflict-of-interest conviction.
The fugitive former prime minister said he is not angling for an amnesty from parliament even if the Pheu Thai Party comes to power in the next election.
"I told my daughter not to allow the party to push for issuance of the amnesty law for me," he said. "I do not need that as those against me will not be happy."
Thaksin also claimed that returning home to serve time will not be a betrayal to his supporters who have been fighting on behalf of him by voting for pro-Thaksin parties and staging mass rallies.
"This is not because I accept that I did something wrong," Thaksin said, blaming instead a system he considers prejudiced against him.
Thaksin predicted that in the next election, the Pheu Thai Party will capture at least half of the 500 seats contested, and maybe as many as 310, because Thais are tired of years of rule under Prayut.
The former prime minister said that even if Pheu Thai wins the election, it still needs to form a coalition government with other parties. But he only saw a remote chance for Pheu Thai to join forces with its political foes, such as the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party.
"It will probably be the last choice, not the first choice."
Lawmakers in both the 250-member upper house and 500-member lower house vote to choose a new prime minister after the general election. The upper house's 250 senators are selected by the military.
In the last general election in 2019, Pheu Thai won the most seats in the lower house. But Palang Pracharath's prime ministerial candidate Prayut went on to become prime minister by receiving 500 votes, beating an opposition candidate who garnered 244 votes.
Prayut, 69, is eyeing premiership from another party this time around. Thaksin said Pheu Thai may not need pro-military Palang Pracharath's help, saying dozens of senators are now independent and ready to vote for the winning party.
Thaksin said his daughter Paetongtarn is ready for political life as she has learned about politics from him since she was young. He predicted she will make a better premier than him.
"She is probably better than me," he said. "She is more calm, more patient than me, I think. And she is very knowledgeable."
Paetongtarn, a mother of one and currently expecting a second child, would be the country's youngest prime minister if elected. She is the most favored prime minister candidate in opinion polls conducted by Thai universities.