Amnesty Bill ignites widespread debate in Thai society


BANGKOK, Oct 22 – Parliamentary deliberation of Thailand’s controversial Amnesty Bill has triggered heated public debate and criticism which could lead to a political showdown soon.

The opposition Democrat Party, which has strongly opposed the bill since its first reading, has vowed to join several activist groups in staging a mass protest against the bill.

They claimed that the Amnesty Bill would relieve ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of any responsibility for his legal offences.

The Democrat Party has contemplated anti-government gatherings with several hardline groups early next month.

Samart Kaewmeechai, chairman of the House committee scrutinising the Amnesty Bill, said it was impossible to please everybody but the committee strictly followed the principle of amnesty and equality under the law.

He said Mr Thaksin would be pardoned only for his involvement in criminal cases during the latest coup, but the bill would not entitle him to a return of his seized assets.

He claimed that the scrutinised bill was aimed at political reconciliation and finding a resolution to the country’s long-standing conflicts.

Mr Samart said those proposing changes to the original bill would be invited to give their explanations on Thursday and the scrutinised Amnesty Bill should be submitted to the House of Representatives for the second reading early next month.

Prompong Nopparit, spokesman of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, said opponents of the Amnesty Bill who planned a mass rally next month were the same old activist groups who put the blame on former prime minister Thaksin.

“I can reassure that ex-premier Thaksin is neither involved in the Amnesty Bill nor the move to return his confiscated assets,” he said. “Some people are trying to trigger political conflicts with the desire to topple the government.”

He called on the opposition party to fight against the Amnesty Bill in Parliament instead of engaging in road-side political activity and using people as their political tool.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said he would fight head-on against pardoning those involved in corruption, adding that the House scrutiny committee was attempting to speed up the meeting so that some MPs would not make it.

Tida Thavornseth, leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the Red Shirt group, said the UDD advocated the original Amnesty Bill, proposed by Pheu Thai MP Vorachai Hema, and opposed the version agreed by the House scrutiny committee.

She said the UDD would not rally at the moment but would await Parliament’s resolution on the issue.

“We agree with amnesty for the people, but not for those who ordered the crackdown (on people). We disagree with any move to topple the government,” she said.

Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan has instructed provincial governors and district officers nationwide to create understanding among people on the Amnesty Bill.

He said he was confident the political situation would be controllable.