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Thai parliament votes for immediate debates of reconciliation bills
Publication Date : 01-06-2012
The House of Representatives of Thailand yesterday voted for immediate debate of the four controversial reconciliation bills despite fierce protests by opposition Democrat MPs against the "dictatorial" House speaker.
The House faced a second day of commotion after Wednesday saw the worst chaos in Parliament's history.
Late in the morning, the chairmen of 35 House committees met to discuss whether the reconciliation bills were financially related legislation. The Democrat Party claimed that by expunging the legal impacts of the post-coup court verdicts, the 46 billion baht (US$1.44 billion) confiscated from former premier Thaksin Shinawatra would likely be returned to him, so the bills should be considered as "financially related".
Endorsement by the Cabinet or prime minister is required for any bill deemed financially related.
After almost five hours of heated arguments, the meeting decided by a vote of 22-1 that the four bills were not financially related. Most of the chairmen were from the ruling Pheu Thai Party. The only dissenter was Democrat MP Shane Thaugsuban, while the other Democrat MPs who were panel chairmen walked out of the meeting in protest.
During the meeting, the proponents of the four bills told the participants that their proposed laws were not financially related. One of them was General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, leader of the 2006 coup and now chair of the House committee on national reconciliation.
After the panel chairmen's vote, the House meeting resumed at around 4.30pm. Pheu Thai MP Cholnan Srikaew moved to bring the four reconciliation bills up to the top of the agenda for immediate deliberation.
The bills were tabled separately by Sonthi and three groups of Pheu Thai MPs, including many linked to the red-shirt movement.
House Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranond convened the meeting by informing the participants about the decision by the committee chairmen. He rejected a request by Democrat MP Thana Chirawinit for further discussion on whether the bills were financially related, drawing protests from many Democrats. The speaker argued that the committee chairmen had made the decision after their lengthy meeting.
The situation became more tense when Democrat MP Watchara Phetthong asked the Speaker to have Parliament police disarmed.
Somsak called for a show of hands on whether to move up the reconciliation bills for immediate deliberation even as Democrat MPs shouted in protest. Many police began gathering behind the Speaker when opposition MPs confronted him, screaming "dictator, dictator".
The House voted 272-2 for immediate deliberation, showing that most Democrat MPs in attendance did not vote.
Somsak, interrupted from time to time by bursts of protest, scheduled the debate on the bills for 9.30am today and adjourned the meeting at 5pm.
Angry Democrat MPs gathering nearby began heaving sheets of paper and copies of House meeting regulations and the Constitution at Somsak, who was guarded by police and was later led out of the chamber.
Democrat MP Thana Chirawinit said afterwards that the House Speaker did not act fairly and properly when chairing the meeting. He told the pro-Democrat Blue Sky satellite television station that the reconciliation laws would set a bad precedent that wealthy people with enough support in Parliament could issue a new law to whitewash their crimes.
Pheu Thai MP Sa-nguan Pongmanee said the Democrats appeared to be trying every delaying tactic to avoid deliberating on the bills.
Leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) resolved to continue their protest against the reconciliation bills, which began on Wednesday, PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said. He advised protesters to bring towels in addition to umbrellas and raincoats.