Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand Thursday morning, after more than 17 months of self-exile abroad since a military coup ousted his administration.
Thaksin faces a series of charges and allegations of corruption and abuse of power brought up by junta-appointed investigation bodies.
Former police Lieutenant-Colonel Thaksin, born in Thailand's northern province Chiang Mai in 1949, became one of the richest people in Thailand by setting up telecommunications companies like Shin Corporation and Advanced Info Service before entering politics.
Thaksin entered politics by joining the Phalang Dharma Party (Power of Justice Party) in 1994, and once served as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in two administrations.
He later founded the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party in 1998, which won two landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005 and made him Thailand's 23th Prime Minister. He was the first elected prime minister in Thai modern political history to complete a full term of four years and win a re-election. The TRT party also became the strongest ever political party in the country, once boasting members.
Thaksin's administration is branded as a populist one, whose policy platform caters mostly the country's rural and urban poor, with projects like 30-baht universal health care, One Tambon (sub-district) One Product (OTOP), Village Fund to promote development of rural enterprises and cheap housing for urban low-incomers, that earned him great support among the grass-root people, especially in the north and northeast, where the country's majority rural poor reside.
Supporters have praised Thaksin of successfully reducing poverty and helping the country's economy recover from the aftermath of the 1997 financial crisis in Southeast Asia.
However, his critics, mostly comprised of academics, teachers, some businessmen, media and so-called middle-class in urban area who believed their interest was less taken cared of under Thaksin's populist policies, accused him of abusing his power to benefit his family and allies' business, dictatorship, suppressing press freedom. Human rights activists also criticized him on alleged extra judicial killings in the government's tough-stanced anti-drug war and its battle against the insurgency in the deep south.
The People's Alliance of Democracy (PAD), a civilian group of anti-Thaksin activists, launched mass street protests between late2005 and early 2006 to call on the step-down of Thaksin, forcing Thaksin to dissolve the parliament and call a by-election in April, 2006.
The TRT won the April election, which was boycotted by other major opposition parties, but the results were later annulled by the Constitutional Court.
On Sept. 19, 2006, a group of military top brass led by then army chief Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, later known as the Council for National Security (CNS), overthrew Thaksin's government in a bloodless coup while he was attending a UN meeting in New York.
A junta-appointed constitutional tribunal dissolved the TRT party in May, 2007 and banned Thaksin and other 110 executives of the TRT from engaging in politics for five years. The Assets Examination Committee froze Thaksin and his family's assets worth around two billion U.S. dollars on corruption allegations.
Since the coup, Thaksin has been traveling around the world in self-exile, mostly residing in Britain, where he owned a house in London and bought the Manchester City Football Club.
Though Thaksin had vowed repeatedly to return to Thailand to fight the charges in court, he fulfilled his pledge only after a general election on Dec. 23 has seen the People Power Party, seen as a new banner for Thaksin and the former TRT, win most seats in the House of Representatives and formed a coalition government in early February 2008 led by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, the PPP leader.