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Thai Government, Opposition at Odds Over Amnesty Bill

  • Ron Corben

Anti-government protesters are seen gathered outside Bangkok's Lumpini Park August 4, 2013.

Anti-government protesters are seen gathered outside Bangkok's Lumpini Park August 4, 2013.

Thailand is facing new political tensions as the government is preparing to submit an amnesty bill to parliament, along with key finance and infrastructure spending measures. Both anti-government and pro-government groups are preparing for political battle, but some analysts say there could be compromise on the amnesty measure.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra faces a new test of political strength during the current parliamentary session, as her government of two years moves to pass key legislation, including an amnesty bill covering those charged from protests dating back seven years.

Renewed anti-government rallies were launched Sunday despite the government's imposition of the Internal Security Act over three districts of Bangkok.

No pardon

The demonstrators oppose the amnesty bill, saying the legislation is part of a package of measures that would include a pardon for former leader, Thaksin Shinawatra - the prime minister's older brother, who remains in exile avoiding a two-year jail sentence for corruption. A pardon would allow him to return to Thailand and avoid further charges.

Thailand has been embroiled in political turbulence since 2005 when Thaksin Shinawatra was prime minister and anti-government protestors accused the government of corruption and nepotism. Thaksin was overthrown in a coup in 2006. He fled Thailand in 2008 but analysts say he remains influential with the current government.

Pro-Thaksin protestors under the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) staged protests in 2009 and 2010 against the establishment-backed government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. Abhisit government efforts to end the protests peacefully failed, leading to crackdowns in April and May 2010 that left 90 people dead and hundreds injured.

UDD leader Thida Tavornseth says the amnesty bill covers protestors incarcerated but not UDD leaders.

"Almost all of the people, maybe many hundred - about 500 to 800 - and they already were in jail about two to three years. No, not the leaders and not Khun Thaksin Shinawatra, just only the people,” says Thida Tavornseth.

The opposition Democrat Party says it wants the amnesty bill withdrawn before it will negotiate with Prime Minister Yingluck.

Moves to pass legislation in 2012 governing constitutional reforms were delayed by the Thai Supreme Court.

Headed for ‘showdown’

Political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak says Thailand once again appears headed for a political "showdown."

"The forces in the opposition and the anti-Thaksin coalition and the pro-Thaksin supporters - they are now at loggerheads again. We saw last year that the government and (governing) Pheu Thai Party tried to push through a series of constitutional reforms. But they were thwarted, prevented by the constitutional court and the government backed down. This year they are up at it again, up against the anti-Thaksin coalition again," says Thitinan Pongsudhirak.

But Kraisak Choonhavan, a former senator and member of the opposition Democrat Party, says there is bipartisan support for the amnesty bill.

"If it's concerning people who were part of the mob or the demonstrators who have been not fairly treated during the crackdown that (bill) could sail through. It really depends on that. If it's fairly debated and there is mutual agreement, I should think the Democrat Party will not oppose it to the hilt," says Kraisak Choonhavan.

During the current parliamentary session the Yingluck government is also hoping to pass a $80 billion general budget, and supplementary spending of more than $100 billion designated for infrastructure projects.
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