Decision seen as a move to pre-empt any political chaos
The decision by the Pheu Thai Party and the government whips to put the amnesty bill proposed by red-shirt leader and Pheu Thai MP Worachai Hema at the top of the agenda for the upcoming House session was a calculated move.
While it reduces pressure on the government from the red shirts, the administration can pre-empt any political turmoil by saying it will not rush or take short cuts in the legislation process. That means the process could be halted at any time if it faces obstacles. In the meantime, the government can go ahead with financial bills to fund its projects.
In light of the government whips’ decision, academics agreed that any changes made to Worachai’s draft of the law during the second reading of the deliberation process, and political movements outside the Parliament, will now be the critical points in Thai politics.
Chulalongkorn University political scientist Chaiyan Chaiyaporn said he agreed with making the amnesty bill a priority item on the House of Representatives agenda, as this has long been a demand made by the red shirts at their rallies. The decision at least showed to the red shirts that the Pheu Thai Party had taken some action to help them. It would therefore get the red shirts’ support, Chaiyan said.
“Regarding the political activities outside Parliament, the anti-government groups like Pitak Siam will rally anyway, and they have many issues to protest about, whether or not the amnesty bill is pushed as a priority. The only question is whether the number of protesters will be huge,” he said.
It is now up to the government to try to explain to the people that the amnesty bill is not intended to help fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, while the details of the bill can be worked out during the deliberation process, he said. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the anti-government groups will be able to mobilise protesters.
If there are a lot of anti-government protesters, the red shirts would be there to support the government, Chaiyan said. And if there were to be a House dissolution, the red shirts would still vote for Pheu Thai in the next election, he said.
Chaiyan’s colleague Trakoon Meechai agreed that the move reduced pressure on Pheu Thai from the red shirts, allowing it to work on other legislation, such as the Bt2-trillion loan bill, more easily.
However, he said there were still questions surrounding the Pheu Thai Party, such as whether the various drafts of the bills reflected a lack of unity in the party.
Another question, Trakoon said, was whether the “vagueness”, “problems” and “chaos” that have surrounded this legislation had been foreseen, and whether the party had intended to use them as a reason for eventually issuing the law as an emergency decree, as was apparently discussed in a recently leaked audio clip.
Trakoon was referring to an audio clip of a conversation between Thaksin and a person believed by some to be Deputy Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha.
Trakoon asked why the party reserved its support for Worachai’s draft, when other MPs had also proposed their own versions of amnesty or reconciliation laws.
The party had ignored a draft proposed by Payao Akahad and other relatives of the victims of the 2010 political turmoil, he said.
Worachai’s draft would give amnesty to people charged with criminal offences, except the leaders who decided on or ordered political movements.
Meanwhile, Payao’s draft refuses amnesty to the leaders and to those whose conduct was intended to hurt others through the use of weapons, those who aimed to damage others’ private property or deprive them of it, or people involved in excessive conduct.
The Democrat Party has backed Payao’s draft, and Payao has sought support from the Bhum Jai Thai Party. If the party agrees to support it, its MPs might sign up to submit the draft to Parliament. In that case, passing Worachai’s bill would be more complicated, Trakoon said.
“During parliamentary deliberation, all the [different] proposals might be accepted for consideration. It could be critical this time, when groups in society will come out and voice their stances.
“It will likely be quite hectic on the days of deliberation. The bill will not be passed quickly. Otherwise, people will have another question to ask, about why the law was hastily passed,” he said.
“The objective of this law is to create unity. But if legislators just claim a majority vote and pass the law without reaching a consensus, the problems will remain unsolved,” Trakoon said, adding that some progressive Pheu Thai figures had told him that a person deserved amnesty only when he or she conceded having done something wrong.
Thammasat University vice rector Prinya Thaewanarumitkul said the second reading of the amnesty bill would be very important, and the government must create a climate of trust among legislators.