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Amnesty bill change by panel 'to benefit' Thaksin

House panel proposes everyone facing legal action after 2006 coup should be absolved

THE GOVERNMENT is risking a new round of political conflict after the House panel vetting a government-proposed amnesty bill yesterday voted to rewrite a clause to include as beneficiaries people facing legal action in cases stemming from post-coup investigations.

According to critics and observers, this latest move is aimed at benefiting fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was sentenced to two years in jail and saw billions of baht in assets seized.

The 35-member vetting panel, dominated by MPs from the ruling coalition, voted 18-8 to support a proposal by the panel's deputy chairman Prayuth Siripanich. He suggested that Article 3 of the bill should be rewritten so that the amnesty covers persons accused of wrongdoing by a group of people or an organisation set up after the coup of September 19, 2006.

Twenty-six panel members were present at yesterday's meeting. What the panel did has confirmed an earlier concern of many that the amnesty bill would be rewritten to help "whitewash" the ex-leader of his wrongdoings while in power.

This could be another magnet to bring opponents and detractors of the ruling politicians to the streets in great numbers, according to observers. The International Court of Justice has scheduled November 11 to rule on a case filed by Cambodia, seeking an interpretation of the court's 1962 verdict over a territorial dispute involving the Preah Vihear Temple. A ruling deemed unfavourable to Thailand could cause angry government critics to protest.

The panel yesterday completed vetting all six articles of the bill and would allow MPs requesting amendment to the original bill to speak before the panel on October 30 and 31, according to its chairman Samart Kaewmeechai, who is also a Pheu Thai MP.

He expected the amnesty bill to be forwarded to Parliament for the second and third readings early next month.

In response to concerns that this proposed law was intended to help politicians accused of corruption, including Thaksin, Samart said: "In my view the law is meant to ensure justice to all parties."

The 2006 coup-makers set up the Assets Examination Committee (AEC) to investigate corruption allegations against members of the Thaksin cabinet.

The AEC's investigations led to many cases against those politicians, including one that led to an imprisonment verdict against Thaksin. In October 2008, the Supreme Court sentenced the ex-prime minister to two years in jail for abuse of power in the Ratchadaphisek land scandal, after his then-wife bought a state-seized land plot at a price much lower than the market price. In February 2010, the court seized Bt46 billion of Thaksin's assets believed to have been earned from abuse of power. There are more cases against Thaksin that have been suspended while he is a fugitive abroad.

Pheu Thai MP Korkaew Pikulthong yesterday acknowledged that this latest development would lead to increased opposition against the government, but he did not think this would lead to its ousting.

"It is because all the parties involved will benefit, including the yellow shirts and the [opposition] Democrat Party," he said in an interview with The Nation.

Leaders of the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy and some leading Democrat figures are facing a number of cases stemming from the political conflict.

A Pheu Thai source yesterday said this latest move was part of a plan by the ruling party, which had the vetting panel make the controversial decision. If the opposition grows strong, the government may shelve the bill or tone down the change; otherwise the ruling party would go ahead "all the way" so that the law would cover Thaksin.

Anti-government activist Suriyasai Katasila, who is the Green Group coordinator, yesterday said he expected a mass rally soon. He said protesters could now come out and rally legitimately after the MPs pushed for an amended draft of the amnesty law.

"I don't know if the People's Alliance for Democracy will regroup, as the leaders have announced they are stepping down. It is up to all of the PAD leaders. But I think the supporters who used to fight together wouldn't accept it. There might be a mass rally as soon as it is clear that there will be amnesty for Thaksin Shinawatra," he said.

"When things turn out like this, there's no need for the protest to wait for the third reading as we can see the government's goal even in the second reading so far," he said.

Nitithorn Lamlua, a leader of the Students' and People's Network for Thailand Reform, said the group would not step up its rally but believed more people would join them at the Urupong intersection.


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