PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra attended a birthday party for outgoing Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh, according to video posted online Sunday, a day after Thaksin said he would delay plans to return to Thailand following years of self-imposed exile.
Thaksin’s appearance in Cambodia came at a politically sensitive time in neighboring Thailand, as Pheu Thai, the latest in a string of parties affiliated with Thaksin, is seeking to win enough support in Parliament for one of its members to become the next prime minister almost three months after a general election in May.
Thaksin said on Saturday on the platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that he would delay a planned return to Thailand next Thursday for “no longer than two weeks,” citing a doctor’s appointment.
His daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, who campaigned for prime minister with Pheu Thai in the latest election, had said nearly two weeks ago her father would return to Thailand on Aug. 10.
Thailand has faced an unexpectedly difficult time in selecting a new prime minister after the progressive Move Forward Party, which seeks reforms in several areas, including a controversial law that strictly forbids defamation of the royal family, emerged as a surprise winner in the May 14 polls. Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat failed in an initial bid last month to have Parliament name him the new prime minister.
Thaksin was elected Thailand’s prime minister in 2001 and easily reelected in 2005, but was ousted by a military coup in 2006. He was accused of corruption and abuse of power and of disrespecting the country’s monarchy.
He fled Thailand in 2008 to escape a prison term in several criminal cases, which he decried as politically motivated, and still could be jailed for more than a decade on his return.
A government led by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was also ousted by a military coup in 2014. She also faced criminal charges and fled into exile.
Thaksin’s message on Saturday about his delayed return did not mention a trip to Cambodia, but a video posted on Hun Sen’s official TikTok account shows Thaksin standing next to Hun Sen, joined by Hun Sen’s family members, at a birthday party at the Cambodian leader’s residence on the outskirts of the capital.
Hun Sen, Asia’s longest-serving leader, turned 71 on Saturday.
Hun Sen posted more than one minute of video from the party and wrote: “This year, my son, children and grandchildren joined by elders and younger ones, and my godbrother, gathered on my birthday at my home.”
Yingluck was also seen in the video.
Thaksin and Hun Sen reportedly have a close relationship and regard each other as “godbrothers.” In 2009, Hun Sen appointed Thaksin as a Cambodian government adviser, but Thaksin soon resigned the position.
On July 26, Hun Sen announced that he will step down as prime minister on Aug. 22 and hand power to his oldest son, Hun Manet, the country’s army chief, after his ruling Cambodian People’s Party won a landslide victory in July 23 elections.
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