Thursday, April 19, 2012

Countdown to post-Songkran political 'tsunami'

You can never tell whether it’s just a bluff or that former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra knows something we don’t about his own political future when he said in Laos last week that he was coming home in “three to four months.”
In fact, in one of his recent spate of interviews to the local press outside the country, Thaksin even mentioned his birthday anniversary on July 26 as the “target date” for this return to Thailand.
It wasn’t clear how that was to take place. The former premier would only say that his close associates and the red shirts were drawing up the plan and that preparations were being made by staunch supporters who strongly believe that he could contribute greatly to the country with his presence back home.
Thaksin said his advocates want to give him a “birthday present” by taking him home. But then he went on to qualify that with the statement that it’s fine if he couldn’t return to Thailand within this year. He said the country was on the path to reconciliation. “I want to make sure all sides are happy,” he told the Bangkok Post from Hong Kong last week.
A few days after that, he was in Laos. The sight of a large number of red-shirt supporters who went to wish him a happy Songkran probably gave him enough morale boost to make him say a few firmer words: “I am sure I will be home in three to four months. There will be no more yellow shirts and red shirts. I am ready for national reconciliation. I can’t help it if anyone doesn’t want to be part of the reconciliation.”
He probably forgot that he had said he wanted “all sides” to be happy with his move.
If “his side” wanted him to return as a free man, the “other side” has no problem with his coming home on one very crucial condition: He will have to comply with the jail term verdict and to fight the other cases filed against him.
That’s what he is not ready to accept. And that’s why opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva says Thaksin’s next move would trigger two “political tsunamis” – one called “amnesty” and the other “constitutional amendments.”
First thing first. Abhisit says that after Songkran, the government could follow one of the three scenarios: 1. Organize public hearings on the proposed amnesty bill 2. Produce the amnesty draft bill and 3. Make the first move but aim for the outcome in the second.
“I guess the government will go for the third option which may be politically less controversial. In the end, the so-called public hearings would be no more than just a ceremonial thing. But if the government reads the King Prajadhipok Institute’s report carefully, it would have to be very careful with pursuing the amnesty bill because that could spark a new round of national conflict. If the ruling party rams through the bill with its majority vote in parliament and Thaksin can come home, the real question is: Could the country’s conflict be really resolved?”
Thaksin’s statement about his return home in the near future is necessarily based on his confidence that somehow, the amnesty bill would pass the House and Senate. The timeline from now is crucial. The government could extend the current House session to accommodate the move – or the ruling Pheu Thai Party could call an extraordinary parliamentary session to force through the bill which is the only legitimate tool to allow him to come home as a free man without facing any charges.
Or if it doesn’t want to be seen to be rushing the legislative process just for one man, the government could wait until the annual Budget Bill is submitted to the House in June. The next House session, otherwise, is not due until August.
Not everyone in Thaksin’s inner circles is convinced that the road back home is paved with roses. Yongyudh Tiyapairaj, a former secretary to the former premier and no doubt a staunch supporter, was asked by Prachachat reporter:
Q: The procedure to get Khun Thaksin home. How far has it gone as far as you are concerned?
A: First, I must ask: How is he going to come back? I must ask those who like to say that they will get (Premier) Thaksin home. In fact, he is abroad, doing his business which is much more prosperous than that in Thailand. If they take him back home, maybe, he can stay only two days before having to leave again. Therefore, when they talk about bringing Khun Thaksin home, what they really mean perhaps is to liberate him from the bondage that had been caused by injustice.
Q: What would be the decisive factor to determine whether he can come back or not?
A: The law lays down the proper procedure and steps involved. He can return only when 1. He is not guilty anymore. That’s when he gets an amnesty and 2. He is advised by his supporters to do so, in which case a confrontation would follow and that’s not sustainable. The best choice would be for him to return together with mercy and sympathy all around.
In other words, Thaksin was absolutely right when he said he would come home when “all sides” are happy with that scenario. He will have to work very hard to achieve that

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