Friday, March 15, 2013

How ironic: A "reconciliation" bill that promises to split the country further

The Pheu Thai Party members who pushing for the passage of an amnesty bill insist, despite skepticism from their detractors, that they have no “hidden agenda” to slip in a clause that could include former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra in the deal.

But Plodprasob Suraswadi, a deputy prime minister, spilled the beans by declaring that the “reconciliation bill” must offer Thaksin amnesty.

“Why does Thaksin have to be exempted (from the proposed amnesty)? All quarrelling parties must be included in the proposed clemency,” he declared.

That probably shot the proposed bill through with holes. At least, Plodprasob’s statement, which perhaps represents the real – if unspoken--motives behind the move, has seriously weakened the ruling party’s argument all along that they weren’t working to help Thaksin. They were only trying to end the country’s conflict by pardoning all the people punished for harbouring different political opinion.

It didn’t help that Thaksin was said to have ordered his party to make a strong push for an amnesty law. He was officially advocating that line not for himself – but to help release red shirts who are being jailed for having joined the protest against the previous government – and those considered “political prisoners.”

But, according to party’s inside sources, Thaksin had issued the order through Skype to the party’s coordinating committee on Monday because he sensed that some red-shirt leaders were becoming disillusioned and might be abandoning their support for the party.

In that message, the former premier probably didn’t talk about his own amnesty although he was quoted as asking wistfully when his supporters could effectively bring him home. He was suggesting, of course, that his case would have to be settled one way or the other before he could be back in Thailand again.

But the haste with which some of the party members revived the “ reconciliation bill” – so soon after the party lost the Bangkok gubernatorial election – has raised some serious questions about the wisdom of such a move. There was little doubt that as soon as the issue was renewed, a new round of conflict would inevitably rear its ugly head again.

The fact that the person who spearheaded this new move is none other than Deputy House Speaker Charoen Chankomol, a senior Pheu Thai Party member, rendered the matter almost stillborn immediately.

While six versions of the “reconciliation bill” were waiting in the House agenda, Charoen’s open invitations to at least 11 groups of people to attend a “brain-storming” session last Monday were almost immediately shot down by the Democrats and the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

That means that the main opponents of Pheu Thai Party put up a roadblock as soon as the renewed attempt was launched. The same old routine was repeated: Pheu Thai declared that they were proposing the bill for the sake of uniting the country. The Democrats promptly rejected the idea arguing that the campaign was obviously another attempt to help Thaksin. They would have nothing to do with any bill that offers amnesty to people with criminal offences, especially related to corruption.

The first round of Charoen’s forum on Monday saw only five of the 11 parties he had invited amidst suspicion that an amnesty bill submitted by 42 Pheu Thai MPs was to be brought forward for House debate, thereby making it an “urgent” item on the agenda – a move that would certainly spark a new round of angry exchange between the pro-Thaksin and those against.

Judging from Thaksin’s latest Skype messages to his supporters here, the amnesty bill would be followed by the proposed charter amendments which, again, have been interpreted by his opponents as another move to pave the way for his return home without any criminal consequences.

The twin challenges will almost certainly backfire yet again. It is hard to imagine why Thakin’s supporters would want to create a political storm that could destabilize the Yingluck government. That should be the last thing on Thaksin’s mind. But paradoxically enough, this is precisely what might just happen if the amnesty move isn’t called off to make way for the government to resolve the much more urgent issues such as the controversial rice mortgage policy and the huge public debt being created to launch the Bt2trillion infrastructure mega projects.

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