TIME: You've asserted that you and your old political party, Thai Rak Thai, were highly popular. Yet there was hardly any public outcry against the coup.
THAKSIN: It was the same with Thailand's 17 other coups. First, the people are shocked. Then they start to voice their concerns. And then they start to accept it, especially after it's endorsed by His Majesty the King. They're very disciplined. They obey. But they are watching what [the new rulers] are doing, and when they will return democracy to the people. People's tolerance is limited.
The new government has been responsible for controversial policiesthe capital controls in December, and the proposed changes to the Foreign Business Act that could limit overseas ownership of companies in Thailand. What do you think of such moves?
No one can adopt protectionism anymore. Thailand has to be ready for globalizationyou cannot turn your back on it. Anything that reverses what is already very open will cause confusion and uncertainty. This is when investors pull out.
You've met with business leaders in Japan, which is traditionally the biggest foreign investor in Thailand. What did you tell them?
I said this is a hiccup for Thailand, to not lose confidence in the country, that democracy will prevail and that their investments will bear fruit.
The junta has claimed that forces loyal to you were responsible for the New Year's Eve bombings in Bangkok. How do you respond?
I absolutely deny any connection. [Those responsible] must be brought to justice. Pointing a finger at somebody else, without evidence and investigation, is not right.
The junta also accuses you and your government of corruption.
The allegations are baseless. I asked very detailed questions about projects that went to the Cabinet for approval, and I shot down many of them. In all the previous 17 coups, corruption was one of the excuses. But some juntas ended up being more corrupt. At any rate, corruption will not go away in Thailandit's in the system.
You have criticized the junta for muzzling the media, but you were accused of doing the same during your time in office.
The press printed groundless information about me. The press should not print unless it has all the facts because this can hurt the reputations of others. So I criticized them; sometimes I used strong words.
You did more than just express strong words. You slapped lawsuits on newspapers that printed things you didn't like.
That was the only way I could seek justice. But I never intervened in their activities or closed them down.
How mature is Thailand's democracy?
Without democracy it's not possible for Thailand to prosper, because without democracy, we will not get the trust and confidence [of investors] to develop the country. If you look at the development of civilizations, the first curve of civilization is military, or the prestige game. The second curve is industrialization, or the wealth game. The current curve is the wisdom gameinformation technology. We have to compete in the wisdom game; we should not be competing in the prestige game. But [the junta] wants to bring the country backward. That is not good. You should take the country forward.
Will you return to politics?
Right after I was ousted by the coup, I had mixed feelings. The negative feeling was that this was unfortunate for Thailand and its democracy, that the confidence I tried very hard to restore after the 1997 financial crisis would be lost. The positive part was, oh, I can retire now, I can have time for myself, for my family, I can meet friends and relax. Life is not that long, so if you can bring some happiness to yourself and your family, that's good ... I'm quite confident that if I ran [for election] today, I would win, [but] I have no political ambitions. I am calling it quits.