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Amnesty bill will compound national woes

Nov 01. 2013
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By The Nation

Thailand has enough real problems without the added burden of a political move that will only worsen the national divide
Why is it that a “reconciliation” plan advocated by the ruling party is threatening to tear the country apart? The answer is simple: The government’s legislative moves do not seek to rectify the root cause of Thailand’s strife, but are amplifying it instead. 
The “amnesty bill” has highlighted the acrimonious conflict between Thais who think Thaksin Shinawatra is corrupt and dangerously manipulative and those who see him as a champion of the poor, however imperfect.
Bringing him home a free man is not the answer. Nor is returning the seized Bt46 billion to his family. The amnesty bill is, in Thaksin’s own words, something that could “reset” Thailand. The idea is superficially commendable, but the question causing super-heated political tension is “Reset Thailand to when?” 
Critics are saying Thaksin only wants to return the country to the days he was in power and able to do virtually anything he liked regardless of the law.
The blanket amnesty – which cleared the Lower House yesterday and awaits Senate approval, which is likely – would benefit the anti-Thaksin yellow shirts as well, since it would cover leaders of the previous government Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban. The Democrats’ vow to oppose a pro-Thaksin bill notwithstanding, this is not the answer either, because the bill would reopen a festering wound. 
Some red shirts’ furious resistance to pardoning Abhisit and Suthep for alleged crimes has seriously complicated the situation and threatened to inflame already-deep national divisions. A politically fragile Thailand cannot easily cope with such a risky and delicate state of affairs.
Forget about the pros and cons of the amnesty bill for a moment and focus on the timing. There is no urgent need to absolve Thaksin, especially now that his youngest sister is running the government and needs all the help she can get to stay in office without “undemocratic” interruptions. It would be a lot easier for her if she was not obliged to help her brother.
Thailand’s “democracy” is not in the hands of Thaksin’s opponents. They are only “reacting” to what they don’t like, and what they like least is the possibility of his complete absolution. Taking the Thaksin issue out of the equation, all Yingluck Shinawatra has to worry about are genuine problems like the faltering economy, the perennial floods and the insurgence in the South. Without the Thaksin issue she would still be ridiculed and subjected to the opposition’s games, but what world leader does not face such headaches? 
Thailand’s democracy is in Thaksin’s hands. Without the sensitive matter of absolving him and giving him back his confiscated money, the government could sail through other storms. If the ship were to sink, it would be because of “normal” flaws like economic mismanagement or failure to prevent corruption, but, importantly, democracy would survive. With the controversial amnesty issue, the entire fabric of our democracy is being eaten into. 
Anyone worried about the government’s survival only has to look at the Urupong rally. Without this matter of gross nepotism, all the crowd can do is disrupt traffic. The protesters require motivation, and a bill seeking to bring Thaksin back a free man and likely return his money is what motivates them. Thaksin might be asking how much longer he has to wait. It’s a fair question, but unfortunately for him, short of coming home to face justice, waiting is all he can do. 

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