Yingluck gets her team to call media to clarify stance, says she is ready to back down
The statement Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra delivered at lunchtime yesterday initially appeared to add fuel to the fire.
Her statement, delivered after a Cabinet meeting, came amid growing protests against the controversial amnesty bill, which offers total absolution to everybody who was involved in politics-related offences since 2004.
People expected Yingluck’s speech to ease the tension, but instead it ended up sparking ire as evidenced by the angry messages posted on social media. Many said they wanted a clear answer to one question – will the ruling Pheu Thai Party retreat on the bill? However, many also found her statement confusing, while others insisted that she and her party were not backing down on the bill.
Yingluck began her statement by saying she was all for the principle of amnesty because she believed that granting amnesty would reduce conflicts and help the country move forward if all concerned parties forgave each other. Then she went on to say that many were distorting the aim of the bill and using it as a political tool in order to overthrow her government and democracy.
She has obviously forgotten that people from all walks of life nationwide have taken a stand against this bill, ranging from academics, students and businessmen to doctors and villagers.
Most of these protesters are non-partisan people who are taking a stand because they find it unacceptable to grant absolution to those facing corruption charges.
So, she is not correct in assuming that all opponents are against the government.
However, looking closer at the speech, one might see some signs of retreat.
After all, Yingluck did say that the fate of the bill was now up to the Senate, which will be deliberating on it next Monday. Perhaps, she was signalling to the upper house that her government was ready to take a step back.
She also said that the MPs who voted for the bill would accept the Senate’s decision, which could mean that despite the government’s majority in the House of Representatives, it might choose not to reaffirm Prayuth Siripanich’s controversial version of the bill if the Senate rejects it.
The Constitution’s Article 148 states that a bill rejected or withheld by the Senate can be reconsidered by the House, but only after observing a 180-day lapse.
Yingluck reportedly found the strong public reaction to her speech rather shocking and asked her staff to call the media and explain that she and her government would not push the bill forward.
Sadly, judging from what the Pheu Thai Party has been doing in terms of the bill, few people believe her.
The country has sustained damage inflicted by political conflict for the past 10 years.
After I was elected, I believe every citizen agreed the country would not move forward if the conflict persisted. When this government took office, I announced a clear policy to bring about reconciliation under the rule of law. Recently, I pushed to form a political-reform venue where all differing sides could join hands to mend fences and foster unity.
Under the democratic principle of balanced sharing of powers, the government – particularly myself as the prime minister – has refrained from interfering with the legislature, as seen in the case of amending the Constitution.
I have been wrongly accused of neglecting to perform my concurrent duty as MP when, in fact, I want the legislature to freely do its job. In regard to the recent House vote for the passage of the amnesty bill, which has spawned much public debate, it is a fact that countries, when mired in political conflict causing loss of lives and properties, would grant amnesty. Thailand should emulate the amnesty lesson.
In principle, amnesty is an option worthy of consideration. If all sides agree to forgive each other, I believe the conflict would dissipate and the country would move on.
It is to be regretted that hundreds of people were killed and thousands injured in the political violence triggered by attempts to overthrow an elected government.
Amnesty does not mean we should forget this painful lesson. We are obliged to learn and understand, so that our children would not face a repeat of such tragedies.
In the meantime, we have to cooperate with one another to overcome the conflict and move the country forward.
The resumption of peace means all sides must grant forgiveness – without bias or emotion – and be open-minded to allow the airing of dissenting opinions. I understand this is difficult to do, but we have to put the greater good before personal interest.
As of today, the amnesty bill was passed by the House and forwarded to the Senate for deliberation. This is in accordance with normal legislative proceedings. Relevant parties have differing views on amnesty, spawning wide differences among sectors of society, institutions, and between and within political parties.
Despite the House passage of the bill, several groups appear not ready to embrace forgiveness and are mired in differences.
I don’t want to see the politicisation of the bill with the aim of unseating the elected government and derailing democratic rule once again.
The bill has been distorted to cause misunderstanding as a fiscal issue. I, as the prime minister, would have to endorse a fiscal-related bill, but I have never lent my signature to endorsing amnesty.
More importantly, the bill is being portrayed as a whitewash of corruption, but this is beside the point. Amnesty is designed to absolve victims of the power seizure, which happened outside the rule of law, and those accused of committing offences related to life, physical injury and property.
I reaffirm that the government will strive to serve the national interests and that it will not use its majority contrary to the people’s feelings.
I will heed the views of proponents and opponents. The government’s main goal is to bring about reconciliation. In the face of prevailing differences, the government would like all sides to pause in order to stop causing further divisiveness.
Under the Constitution, the bill is now under the purview of the Senate. I want to plead for the senators, those appointed and those elected, to use their discretion while deliberating the bill. It is well known that the Senate is beyond interference.
So I hope the senators will deliberate on the bill on the basis of forgiveness and compassion so as to dispense justice equally for those with grievances and pain.
The deliberation on amnesty should factor into the country’s interest. Regardless of the outcome of the Senate’s decision, be it to disagree with, to withhold or to revise the bill, I believe the Members of Parliament, who cast the vote for the bill’s passage, will accept the result for the sake of reconciliation. The legislative procedures should prevail to completion and everyone should uphold this in order to safeguard the freedom of every Thai citizen.
In conclusion, I would like to thank everyone in the legislature for striving to achieve reconciliation. It is now time for all Thai citizens to unite and decide on the way to bring about understanding without bias and emotion. Open-heartedness and compassion should be the basis to achieve reconciliation.