Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been released on parole after spending six months in custody. Thaksin returned to Thailand after 15 years in self-imposed exile.

Thaksin, a billionaire and two-time elected premier, was ousted in a 2006 military coup. He was arrested upon his return to Thailand and initially sentenced to eight years on graft and abuse-of-power charges. However, his sentence was reduced to one year by King Maha Vajiralongkorn shortly after his return, citing Thaksin’s age, 74, and health as reasons for the leniency.

Wearing a neck brace, Thaksin was released from the police hospital in central Bangkok, where he had been transferred due to reported health issues, including chest tightness and high blood pressure. Accompanied by his daughters, Paetongtarn and Pintongta, he left the hospital amid a small group of protesters expressing dissatisfaction with his release.

The details of Thaksin’s release remain unclear, but there are indications that he may be subject to monitoring, potentially with an ankle tag, and restrictions on his right to travel. Speculation has arisen regarding a potential backroom deal, especially given the timing of his release and the recent formation of a government alliance between his Pheu Thai party and pro-military parties.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin denied any such deal, stating that Thaksin had “already served his jail time.” However, whether Thaksin spent any time in a conventional prison cell remains unclear. Critics suspect a political motive behind the release, pointing to Thaksin’s historical influence on Thai politics and the ongoing power struggle between his supporters and the establishment.

The daughter of the former Thai Prime Minister, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, is the current chief of the Pheu Thai party. She played a prominent role in the 2023 general election campaign and is considered a future prime minister.

Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon, remains a polarising figure in Thai history, admired by many rural Thais for populist policies but facing opposition from the royalist and pro-military establishment. Lese-majesty charges have recently been filed against him for comments made almost a decade ago in South Korea, adding another layer of complexity to his legal battles.

Thai politics has been characterised by a longstanding power struggle between the establishment and Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies for the past two decades. The May 2023 election marked a significant shift when the progressive Move Forward Party surpassed the Pheu Thai party, associated with Thaksin.

Despite winning the election, conservative elements in the senate prevented the Move Forward Party’s leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, from becoming the prime minister. Subsequently, Pheu Thai entered into a deal with military-linked parties, sidelining the Move Forward Party and preventing them from participating in the government.