Demonstrators in Bangkok protest an amnesty bill that some say may pave way for return of ex-PM Thaksin
Demonstrators in Bangkok protest an amnesty bill that some say may pave way for return of ex-PM Thaksin
BANGKOK - Anti-government protesters have rallied in Bangkok against a bill aimed at granting amnesty for political offenses during the past six years. Protesters fear the bill could pave the way for the return of controversial former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

About 4,000 people gathered outside the Thai Parliament, calling for the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to halt a reconciliation bill they say favors the return of her brother, the deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

The protests are led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, known as the Yellow Shirts, whose rallies led to Thaksin's ouster in a 2006 coup.

The governing Pheu Thai Party says the bill will promote reconciliation in Thai society, by granting amnesty to those linked to political violence in 2010 that left at least 90 people dead and up to 2,000 injured.  

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak says the bill is being pushed by the former army general who oversaw the 2006 coup, Sonthi Boonyaratglin.

“There is a clear effort now, a campaign by the Pheu Thai government and Thaksin through this bill supported and pushed by General Sonthi - the coup maker - to get through parliament and then to provide a channel for Thaksin to return home.  (Thaksin) seems to think that now the environment is right,” Thitinan said.

At the rally, speakers said they fear the bill undermines the judiciary and Thai constitution.

PAD leaders attended the protest, even though they are likely to benefit from the amnesty.  Several face charges in connection with the 2008 occupation of Bangkok's international airport.

One protester hopes the demonstration will prevent Thaksin from returning.  “I try to stop the reconciliation.  The reconciliation where the government try to push through the parliament is just a way to bring Thaksin and Thaksin regime back, so we try to stop that,” the protester said.

Thaksin’s opponents accused him of corruption and abuse of power during his five years in office.  In 2008, a court found him guilty of corruption and sentenced him to two years in prison, but Thaksin fled the country.  

The former prime minister says the charges are politically motivated.

An author and commentator on Thai politics, Chris Baker, says Thaksin’s efforts to return to Thailand may trigger fresh political volatility.

“I think this is quite dangerous, that it is possible that this will allow the Yellow Shirts to make something of a comeback.  I think it is very uncertain at the moment.  It really depends a lot now on whether we do see a significant revival of support for Yellow Shirt rallying,” Baker said.

Political analysts point out divisions among some Thaksin supporters, called Red Shirts, who helped bring the Yingluck government to power.

Many Red Shirts say instead of giving priority to Thaksin’s return, they want to see full investigations into the deaths of Red Shirt protesters in 2010.  But Thaksin has asked supporters to focus on reconciliation to open the way for his return to Thailand.