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The next political storm is only just heating up

Charter amendment that includes political amnesty for certain figures could be the spark for a new round of violence later this year or early next



Some political analysts have predicted that April will be the hottest month politically. After the first 10 days of the month, all the signs confirm that things will be heating up. A glance at the political calendar, however, shows that this month may be just a prelude to greater tension to come, and the real thrills may happen in the latter half of the year or early 2013.

The House debate on the "reconciliation" research of the King Prajadhipok's Institute (KPI) has passed. There is no news on the "political polarity" front. It is very clear that Thai politics remains deeply divided and any misstep by either side could trigger a new round of violent turmoil.

The House of Representatives' clumsy handling of the KPI research has come to an awkward end, or break, to be exact. But another potentially explosive issue is always on tap. The charter amendment bill is the next in line where political anxiety is concerned. The bill is expected to clear Parliament at the end of this month, or early next month at the latest. After that, a 90-day time frame will follow for the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) to be set up. The election of CDA members may turn into an exciting spectacle, as many candidates are likely to be nominees of political parties. The contest for CDA seats may be fierce, but if we are lucky, it should pass without serious incident.

If there's no further change to the charter amendment bill, the CDA will have about 180 days to complete its task. The most crucial political period of the year, therefore, will be somewhere within those 180 days. In other words, Thai people should fasten their seat belts in the second half of the year, or after the CDA starts working.

The most important thing to watch is what the CDA will do with Article 309 of the current Constitution. The said article protects the legal consequences of the 2006 coup, and the CDA will be torn between doing away with the article or keeping it in the new Constitution. Either way, the political consequences of the CDA's final decision on this issue will be unpredictable.

Last week's debate in the House of Representatives on the KPI research is directly related to Article 309. The government favours a blanket political amnesty, which will be almost impossible if Article 309 is maintained. The opposition put up strong resistance against any such amnesty, warning that there will be new political turmoil if Thaksin Shinawatra is whitewashed. The warning has been echoed by the results of an opinion poll, in which a clear majority of people surveyed voiced concern that there would be fresh violence if Thaksin is absolved.

The volatility in the House when it addressed the KPI research foretells a dilemma that the CDA will face. The showdown between the ruling Pheu Thai Party and the Democrats is also a good measure of how potentially explosive the amnesty issue is. And it is this particular issue of amnesty that will make political parties try to fill the CDA with their nominees.

Whether it is for or against amnesty, the draft of the new Constitution will be put to the test of a public referendum early next year. Pre-referendum campaigns by both sides will further raise the political temperature.

To sum it up, this month of April may be very hot politically, but it might just be a nice breeze compared to what is likely to come later. When the Abhisit government was in power, it was the administration's military "back-up" that caused animosity that spilled over onto the streets in a bloody manner. With former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva gone and Yingluck Shinawatra in his place, it's the proposed "amnesty" for her brother that is threatening to spark a new round of violence.

The politicians and who's who on both sides are claiming or showing that they are trying to end this cycle of torment. The big irony is that the more they purportedly try, the more stuck in it we seem to be.


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