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A naive leader transformed by her impatient brother

Prime Minister Yingluck "Bridget Jones" Shinawatra has turned into Erin Brockovich for a reason. While many are tempted to believe that her speech in Mongolia indicated a screw loose somewhere, she appeared perfectly sane when she delivered it. Those who gaped at her drastic transformation, therefore, might not have anticipated the "amnesty" issue re-emerging so soon, or seen Chalerm Yoobamrung coming forth with an ironically named "reconciliation" bill.

The looming "amnesty" and "reconciliation" items are exactly why Yingluck can no longer giggle off questions about her big brother and her government's activities being seemingly related to him. For those of you who love political technicality, there are two bills at the moment that could put the government under different degrees of heat. One is called an "amnesty" bill that many Pheu Thai MPs seem to favour, as it does not bring all the "big fish" into the picture. The other is ridiculously dubbed a "reconciliation" bill by its creator, Chalerm, and is, in effect, political dynamite.

The latter may need Yingluck's direct endorsement, as it has some big financial implications. But which bill requires how much of her backing doesn't matter much now. With the "amnesty" and "reconciliation" plots merging and thickening, Yingluck can't go on pretending that it isn't her business any longer (not that everyone believed her).

She had to come out all guns blazing. Mongolia was a good practice venue, or so her advisors might have thought. Thaksin Shinawatra was politically persecuted, she told an international audience. Cartoonist Chai Ratchawat, like many Thais, saw something he didn't like and scolded her in a controversial Facebook posting. The uproar he created has turned out to be a prelude to another potentially explosive episode in badly-cursed Thai politics.

Chalerm stepped onto the stage when the Chai Ratchawat dust was settling, wielding what could be his lifetime political masterpiece. The draft "reconciliation" bill is claimed to have sufficient backing from Pheu Thai MPs and is likely to be debated in Parliament soon, provided that Yingluck, if she is legally required to endorse it, makes the mistake of endorsing it.

Chalerm's creation is short and plain, but critics' extra-short and extra-plain summary has generated horrifying effects. This bill, they say, would bring Thaksin home a free man, give him back "his" Bt46 billion and immediately open the door for him to be prime minister again.

To many, what's horrifying is not the "Honey, I'm home" scenario painted by the critics, but what may happen before such a scenario materialises. It's scary what people scared of Thaksin can do, so to speak. Or, to put it in a more pro-Thaksin way: it's scary what people scared of Thaksin can be manipulated into doing.

Chalerm's bill would nullify all legal consequences of the 2006 coup. This means not only would the Ratchadapisek land purchase conviction be revoked, but also the assets clampdown on the Shinawatras. Chalerm desperately denies that the bill would return Bt46 billion to Thaksin plus interest. He argues that the assets seizure was a "civil" case, but - as the brilliant legal talent he often proclaims himself to be - Chalerm omits to mention that his bill would invalidate the Assets Examination Committee, whose findings formed the basis of why Thaksin's money was taken by the state.

Publicly at least, the deputy prime minister has avoided discussing the possibility of Thaksin's immediate political comeback. The man in exile has also sworn repeatedly that all he wants is to come home and solemnly wash his hands of politics. Truth, however, is that Chalerm's bill would remove all legal barriers blocking Thaksin's political return, and records show Thaksin to be anything but a serious oath-taker.

Now, let's recap. We have a highly influential fugitive extremely desperate to get back what he has "lost". He is being helped by a self-proclaimed legal genius who can breathe fire into a crisis situation. Political analysts and some Pheu Thai sources believe that Chalerm and his "reconciliation" bill are being used to test the waters, meaning they could be abandoned if things become too hot to handle.

Leaving Chalerm and his bill alone will benefit everybody. Worrying is the possibility that he, Thaksin and Yingluck will mistake the currently weak opposition as an all-clear sign. They may think they should strike while the iron is hot, while the real circumstances require that they should look before they leap.

What is scary is not only what scared people (manipulated or not) can do, but also what angry people are capable of. Chalerm's bill can frighten and provoke. Thaksin's opponents will be both angry and afraid, but wait until all the implications of Chalerm's brainchild dawn on the red shirts themselves.

The "murderers" will be pardoned, according to the bill. Of course they have to be, or Chalerm's bill may as well be named "A Bill to Bring Thaksin Shinawatra Home a Rich Hero". Cynically speaking, Chalerm may be doing the right thing for the wrong reason, but can the red shirts accept a bill that would essentially mean the "Ratchaprasong massacre" never took place?

So much for reconciliation. Common sense calls for Yingluck to return to her giggling self and tell her brother that all good things come to those who wait. Problem is, he thinks he has been waiting for too long and the gloves that came off in Mongolia meant her glass house has been shattered. Her sense of prime ministerial duty is in danger of getting badly mixed up.

There must be a bright side. Lame as it may sound, here's a choice: Yingluck stepping into unfamiliar territory while warring Thais cramming Square One can be interesting, if not very exciting.


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