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Chalerm backs down on reconciliation bill

Removes article requiring compensation, though many see this as tactical move

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung looks to have backed down from his plan to push through a controversial version of the reconciliation bill - although this may just be a tactical retreat.

His move to tone down the bill by removing an article and giving up his characteristic determination to push the bill for deliberation in Parliament is not unexpected.

"I've assigned MP Piraphan [Palusuk, Pheu Thai-Yasothon] and MP Surajit [Yontrakul, Pheu Thai-Maha Sarakham] to submit the bill to the House on May 23 [tomorrow]. It will be fine if they don't do it," he said.

He is believed to have softened his stance because the bill has met opposition from all sides - both from opponents of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, as well as his supporters.

The red shirts do not want a blanket amnesty bill to be enacted because they want members of the previous government and military leaders punished for the 2010 crackdown. And many Pheu Thai MPs don't want Chalerm's bill considered in the House, as they believe it will provide a cause for Thaksin's opponents to launch an all-out protest against the government.

Chalerm removed Article 5, which sought to provide financial compensation to people affected by political violence and crackdowns. He said the article was removed so it would not rely on the national budget, and thus, would not need to be endorsed by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

However, the real motive behind removing the article may be that he wants to free Yingluck from being held responsible for this controversial bill.

Chalerm claims that removing the article takes away the bill's link to the national budget. However, the bill sought to undo punishment meted out to Thaksin, including seizure of his assets, and if passed, the government would have had to return Bt46.37 billion - a sum that would have to be taken from the national budget.

Article 143 in the Constitution states that any bill requiring the government to pay out national funds needs to be endorsed by the premier. The charter also authorises the House speaker and chairpersons of House panels to decide if a bill is considered linked to the national budget or not.

The opposition, meanwhile, plans to seek a ruling from the Constitutional Court if Chalerm's bill does get sent to the House. Yet, Chalerm's "backdown" may just be a tactical move. This was made clear after Pheu Thai Party came up with a half-hearted resolution over the bill yesterday, and the party's de-facto boss Thaksin made no mention of it during his Skype address to the red-shirt rally on Sunday.

Thaksin just said he backed the bill put forward by Samut Prakan MP Worachai Hema, which seeks to absolve any wrongdoing by demonstrators - not their leaders.

Meanwhile, in its resolution yesterday, Pheu Thai said Chalerm's bill was a personal matter between the deputy PM and a group of MPs, and that it was not related to the party.

"Pheu Thai has resolved to support Worachai's bill and will not take up Chalerm's version for deliberation at the same time," Pheu Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit told reporters after the party meeting. "Chalerm may sponsor the bill but it will not have anything to do with the party."

A Pheu Thai source admitted that Chalerm's bill "would become a magnet to attract opposition against the government. But the party let Chalerm go ahead to test the waters and see if it does get strong opposition. It was decided that if the opposition were strong, we would retreat. The prime minister and Pheu Thai are not related to it so there will be no damage against us," the source said. "However, if the opposition is not strong, the bill might get enacted."

But opposition to Chalerm's bill is clearly very strong.

The red shirts are against it because they want former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva and his then-deputy Suthep Thaugsuban to be punished.

And Democrat MP for Nakhon Si Thammarat Thepthai Senpong said the opposition would also put up a strong fight against it.

"At the House debate, we will use every effort to point out that this bill seeks to benefit only Thaksin. Though the Democrat Party is a minority in the House, we will do our best to block it," Thepthai promised. He added that his party would employ every House regulation to delay the bill's passage.

Chalerm's bill, they expect, would allow the now-weak People's Alliance for Democracy to boost its strength and come out to oppose any return of money to the former PM and absolving Thaksin of any wrongdoing over recent conflicts.


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