An issue that could ignite Bangkok again
Should the rival camps decide to throw caution to the wind, Thailand may once again be mired in street protests and chaos.As the reds and their rival yellow-shirts step up their activities in order to push for their respective versions of amnesty, they should exercise utmost restraint so as to avoid holding the country hostage.
In the coming months, the amnesty issue will become a hot talking point. Whether the debate leads to reconciliation or a new round of political violence hinges on how much the opposing sides are willing to forego vested interests.
On Wednesday, the People's Alliance for Democracy issued a statement, saying it will never condone granting amnesty to criminals and graft offenders. It would, however, support legal absolution to the offenders of emergency and internal security laws.
On the same day, the red shirts announced that they would push for amnesty legislation on criminal violations committed in connection with street protests from 2006 to 2011.
Even before kicking-off the debate, the red and yellow shirts have a conflicting take on what the amnesty legislation should entail.
The red-yellow struggle on amnesty could be a long-drawn-out fight in the legislature as well as in various public forums.
From the perspective of the yellow shirts, amnesty is a pretext for the eventual rescue of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra from his legal predicament. This is the reason why amnesty, if granted, should not cover the graft conviction involving Thaksin.
The yellow shirts' bottomline is that Thaksin must show remorse by serving at least part of his two-year jail term before discussing his pardon.
The anti-Thaksin camp also suspects that the red shirts would extend the amnesty to cover those convicted of offending the monarchy.
For opponents of Thaksin, the root of Thailand's political malady is populism, which they see as a form of vote buying used as a springboard to plunder the country.
Until the political system has been cleansed of populism, the yellow shirts are not prepared to strike a deal with the red shirts in relation to amnesty.
In fact, they have threatened to resume street protests if the reds bring about amnesty legislation on criminal violations.
From the point of view of the reds, amnesty has far-reaching consequences on many levels.
The red leaders, particularly chairwoman Thida Thavornseth, view amnesty as a goal essential for them to achieve. The reds do not see Thaksin as a political outcast, but a victim of the 2006 coup who deserves to be rescued.
Thida and her fellow leaders are under pressure from the ranks to end the legal wrangling involving the reds in a speedy manner.
In January, the reds' leadership tried but failed to convince the government to issue an amnesty decree. This led them to try the legislative channel. Thida and other reds made a calculated move to push for amnesty legislation despite the risk of a head-on collision with the yellow shirts and the Democrats.
The reds managed to sway more than 20 Pheu Thai MPs to sponsor their seven-provision amnesty draft.
At this juncture, it is almost certain that the ruling party will not adopt a formal stand on the draft, though it would allow its MPs a free vote on the matter.
The reds are hoping to apply public pressure on MPs and senators to support their draft.
Though Thaksin's blessings are necessary before the amnesty debate goes to the House floor, but his intervention could automatically trigger a new round of confrontation between his opponents and supporters.