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New reconciliation bill will split the country
Publication Date : 15-03-2013
Pheu Thai Party members who are pushing for the passage of an amnesty bill insist, despite scepticism from their detractors, that they have no hidden agenda to slip in a clause that could include ousted former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra in the deal.
But Plodprasob Suraswadi, a deputy prime minister, spilled the beans by declaring that the "reconciliation bill" must offer Thaksin amnesty.
"Why does Thaksin have to be exempted [from the proposed amnesty]? All quarrelling parties must be included in the proposed clemency," he declared.
That has probably shot the proposed bill through with holes. At the least, Plodprasob's statement - which perhaps represents the real, if unspoken, motive behind the move - has seriously weakened the ruling party's argument that it isn't working to help Thaksin, that it is only trying to end the political conflict by pardoning all the people punished for harbouring different political opinions.
It doesn't help that Thaksin is said to have ordered his party to make a strong push for an amnesty law. He is officially advocating that line not for him - but to help release red shirts jailed for having joined the protest against the previous government - and those considered "political prisoners".
But, according to party sources, Thaksin issued the order via Skype to the party's coordinating committee on Monday, because he sensed that some red-shirt leaders were becoming disillusioned and might abandon their support for the party.
In that message, the former premier probably didn't talk about his own potential amnesty, although he is quoted as asking wistfully when his supporters could effectively bring him home. He was suggesting, of course, that his case would have to be settled one way or the other before he could return to Thailand.
But the haste with which some of the party's members have revived the "reconciliation bill" - so soon after the party lost the Bangkok gubernatorial election - has raised serious questions about the wisdom of such a move. There is little doubt that, as soon as the issue is renewed, the political conflict will inevitably rear its ugly head again.
The fact that the person who spearheaded this new move is none other than Deputy House Speaker Charoen Chankomol, a senior Pheu Thai Party member, rendered the matter almost stillborn immediately.
While six versions of the "reconciliation bill" are pending on the House agenda, Charoen's open invitation to at least 11 groups of people to attend a "brainstorming session" last Monday was almost immediately shot down by the Democrats and the People's Alliance for Democracy.
That meant that the main opponents of Pheu Thai put up a roadblock as soon as the renewed attempt was launched. The same old routine was repeated: Pheu Thai declared that it was proposing the bill for the sake of uniting the country. The Democrats promptly rejected the idea by arguing that the campaign is obviously another attempt to help Thaksin. They will have nothing to do with any bill that offers amnesty to people facing criminal charges or with criminal records, especially related to corruption.
The first round of Charoen's forum on Monday drew only five of the 11 invited parties. This amid suspicion that an amnesty bill submitted by 42 Pheu Thai MPs was to be brought forward for House debate, thereby making it an "urgent" item on the agenda - a move that would certainly spark a new round of angry exchanges between the pro-Thaksin camp and those against.
Judging from Thaksin's latest Skype messages to his supporters here, the amnesty bill will be followed by proposed charter amendments which, again, have been interpreted by his opponents as another move to pave the way for Thaksin's return home without any criminal consequences.
The twin challenges will almost certainly backfire yet again. It is hard to imagine why Thakin's supporters would want to create a political storm that could destabilise the Yingluck government. That should be the last thing on Thaksin's mind. But, paradoxically enough, this is precisely what might happen if the amnesty move isn't called off to make way for the government to resolve much more urgent issues such as the controversial rice price-subsidy policy and the huge public debt being created to finance 2 trillion baht (US$67 billion) of infrastructure mega-projects.