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The timeline to a political tsunami

Publication Date : 19-04-2012


You can never tell whether it's just a bluff or not that former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra knows something we don't about his own political future. For example, last week in Laos he said was coming home in "three to four months".

In fact, in one of his recent spate of interviews to the local press outside the country, Thaksin even mentioned his birthday on July 26 as the "target date" for his return to Thailand.

It wasn't made clear how that is to take place. The former premier would only say that his close associates and the red shirts were drawing up the plan and that preparations were being made by staunch supporters who strongly believe he can contribute greatly to the country with his presence back home.

Thaksin said his advocates want to give him a "birthday present" by bringing him home. But then he went on to qualify that with the statement that it's still fine if he doesn't return to Thailand within this year. He said the country was on the path to reconciliation. "I want to make sure all sides are happy," he told the Bangkok Post from Hong Kong last week.

A few days after that, he was in Laos. The sight of a large number of red-shirt supporters who went to wish him a happy Songkran (Thailand's traditional new year, which fells between Apr 13-15 this year) probably gave him enough of a morale boost to make him say a few firmer words: "I am sure I will be home in three to four months. There will be no more yellow shirts and red shirts. I am ready for national reconciliation. I can't help it if anyone doesn't want to be part of the reconciliation."

He probably forgot that he had said he wanted "all sides" to be happy with his possible move.

If "his side" wants him to return as a free man, the "other side" has no problem with his coming home on one very crucial condition: he will have to comply with the verdict of the court and his two-year jail term and fight the other cases filed against him.

That's what he is not ready to accept. And that's why opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva says Thaksin's next move will trigger two "political tsunamis" - one called "amnesty" and the other "constitutional amendments".

First things first. Abhisit says that after Songkran, the government could follow one of three scenarios: organise public hearings on the proposed amnesty bill; produce the draft amnesty bill; or make the first move but aim for the outcome in the second.

"I guess the government will go for the third option, which may be politically less controversial. In the end, the so-called public hearings will be no more than just a ceremonial thing. But if the government reads the King Prajadhipok Institute's report carefully, it will have to be very careful with pursuing the amnesty bill because that could spark a new round of national conflict. If the ruling party rams through the bill with its majority vote in Parliament and Thaksin comes home, the real question is: Can the country's conflict be really resolved?"

Thaksin's statement about his return home in the near future is necessarily based on his confidence that somehow, the amnesty bill will pass through the House and Senate. The timeline from now is crucial. The government could extend the current House session to accommodate the move - or the ruling Pheu Thai Party could call an extraordinary parliamentary session to force through the bill, which is the only legitimate tool to allow him to come home as a free man without facing any charges.

Or if it doesn't want to be seen to be rushing the legislative process just for one man, the government could wait until the annual Budget Bill is submitted to the House in June. The next House session, otherwise, is not due until August.

Not everyone in Thaksin's inner circle is convinced that the road back home is paved with roses. Yongyudh Tiyapairaj, a former secretary to the former premier, and no doubt a staunch supporter, had the following exchange with a Prachachat reporter:

Q: The procedure to get Thaksin home. How far has it gone as far as you are concerned?

A: First, I must ask: How is he going to come back? I must ask those who like to say that they will get (premier) Thaksin home. In fact, he is abroad, doing his business, which is much more prosperous than that in Thailand. If they take him back home, maybe he can stay only two days before having to leave again. Therefore, when they talk about bringing Khun Thaksin home, what they really mean perhaps is to liberate him from the bondage that has been caused by injustice.

Q: What would be the decisive factor in determining whether he can come back or not?

A: The law lays down the proper procedure and steps. He can return only when he is not guilty anymore. That's when he gets amnesty. Or he can return when he is advised by his supporters to do so, in which case a confrontation would follow, and that's not sustainable. The best choice would be for him to return with mercy and sympathy all around.

In other words, Thaksin was absolutely right when he said he would come home when "all sides" were happy with that scenario. He will have to work very hard to achieve that.


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