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The go-for-broke amnesty and Thailand's Year Zero

If the ruling Pheu Thai Party carries out its threat of passing the wholesale amnesty bill that will effectively absolve ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra of all guilt, including corruption and conflict of interest, a new round of political chaos is just

Thaksin, in his latest interview with the local press, was calling for a “set zero” (sic) for the country. What he presumably meant was “resetting the country back to zero”. In other words, he’s proposing that the country be reset in such a way that we will go back to Square One. All past wrongdoings – political, economic and criminal – would be forgiven. Of course, he will stand to benefit the most from this move – if it is ever passed into law, that is.
Opposition to the move is only to be expected. The Democrats, losing the vote at both the House and committee levels, are now threatening to go out on the streets to protest the bill’s imminent third and final reading.
The ongoing anti-government rallies at Lumpini Park and the Urupong intersection have been radicalised further. The size of the protests might not be huge, but the negative sentiment among members of the “silent majority” has certainly intensified. The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Pheu Thai Party run the risk of underestimating the public mood over this controversial and sensitive issue.
Thaksin also risks losing the support of several red-shirt groups, some of which have publicly opposed the move since the thinly veiled revision of the amnesty bill will also offer clemency to Democrat leaders Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban. 
Not all red-shirt factions come under the Pheu Thai umbrella. In fact some of them have made clear that they are independent of party affiliations and do not necessarily support Thaksin’s every move, particularly if the latest move is aimed mainly to help him without regard for the new roadblock that threatens to undermine the whole amnesty move. 
The original version of the bill was to benefit red-shirt leaders who were charged or jailed for taking part in violent protests. Because the interpretation of the initial draft suggested that Thaksin and Abhisit would not gain from the move, the bill could have been passed without much controversy. But when Pheu Thai at the committee level revised the wording of the draft in a stealthy manoeuvre, all hell broke loose.
The issue isn’t confined to the possibility of declaring null and void the court verdicts on Thaksin’s jail term – arising from conflict of interest charges – and the Bt46 billion in seized assets of the former premier. Now critics are saying that if the amnesty bill is rammed through in its present form, all pending corruption charges against the government at the Anti-Corruption Commission would also be thrown out.
These highly inflammatory scenarios have been pointed out by analysts reading between the lines of Article 3 of the amnesty bill. It says that all mechanisms or activities instituted after the 2006 military coup, up until August 8 this year, will be invalidated.
Anger has been fanned over the blatant attempt to whitewash everything that is wrong with the ruling party and all its affiliates. Premier Yingluck’s attempt to distance herself from the controversy won’t convince voters that she isn’t aware of the political machinations behind this highly incendiary move that could undermine her government’s stability.
Thaksin is proposing his convoluted “set zero” so that he can gain the most from the proposed amnesty, and is adamant that he will never accept defeat. But if he persists in pursuing this make-or-break strategy without regard for the disastrous consequences, he won’t be resetting the country back to zero. He might be plunging the nation back to Year Zero.

Published : October 30, 2013

By : Suthichai Yoon The Nation