He is at once the most successful politician in Thailand's history and its most controversial. Deposed in a 2006 military coup after winning the second of back-to-back landslide elections, Thaksin Shinawatra has for the past five years been living on the lam, evading a corruption conviction and trying to find a way to return home and perhaps even to political power there.
That fight has frequently veered into violence, most famously during last year's protests by his "Red Shirt" supporters. They occupied the centre of Bangkok for two months, eventually prompting a bloody military crackdown that left 91 people dead.
These days he lives a comfortable life in a villa in the Emirates Hills neighbourhood of Dubai, playing the occasional round of golf while keeping in close contact with his supporters, who hope that a July 3 election in Thailand - in which his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is standing for prime minister - may set in motion events that will see Mr. Thaksin granted an amnesty.
Over the course of two days of interviews, Mr. Thaksin granted The Globe and Mail unprecedented access to his private life in exile, and discussed the coup, the crackdown and the coming elections. Here is an edited transcript from parts of those conversations.
Q: How is the campaign going so far?
A. I think it looks very good. The popularity of the party and Yingluck is getting more and more [in the]lead.
What would a Pheu Thai (Mr. Thaksin's party) government do, if it's allowed to form the next government?
They cannot allow or not allow. If the people wish and the people vote for us more than 50 per cent, then we - if we have the highest number - we have the right to form the government.
But what would you do in government? You talk about reconciliation, but I met with (a senior Red Shirt leader), and he was telling me that they would put Prime Minister Abhisit (Vejjajiva) and other senior people on trial. How do you reconcile like that?
This is the paranoia [that exists]between each other. Stop the paranoia, stop enforcing law [in a]politically motivated way and then come together and talk.
Let me ask about May 19 of last year. How did that feel for you? Where were you?
I was in Paris. They spotted me on the day before the crackdown. I was in Louis Vuitton. And then they put the photograph on the front page and the next day they said I'm a terrorist. So the terrorist planning in Louis Vuitton? Oh well, this terrorist likes luxury. But actually, you know, I was travelling at that time. Travelling in Paris.
How did you find out what was going on?
I was informed all the time. Even the military, they did not agree with the orders, but they had no choice. They reported to me, 'I don't know what's going on, we've been ordered to crack down. It will be very brutal.' So after live ammunition, after snipers, after tanks - this is actually like the reason they issued an arrest warrant for [Libyan leader Moammar]Gadhafi.
Did you feel guilty at all, when you called in and found out the army was shooting your supporters?
Yes, but I didn't do any calling at all during the fighting. I did not want to be alleged to be instigating.
You say you want to return to Thailand. Why not go confront the charges against you? Even at worst, if as you say, the courts aren't fair, you serve your two years (that Mr. Thaksin was sentenced to following a 2008 corruption conviction in absentia). You'd be free by now.
If someone can order the court, and they don't even listen to our side, you don't have a free and fair court system. … This is politically motivated. They want to keep me outside of Thailand. That's the bottom line. They just want to keep me outside Thailand. And at the same time, when my supporters are still supporting me, they beat my supporters, they bully them.
But your supporters have no choice but to go to jail. You're able to live here. Is that a good example for them, for your supporters?
They want me to be ready. They want me to go back to help them, to help the country. They know that, they realize that. It's not choice or no choice. We are fighting for justice.
- Mark MacKinnon, Dubai