The way former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra addressed the red shirts at their gathering on May 19 may have left people wondering if political reconciliation could actually be achieved.
Thaksin’s address showed aggression, arrogance and overconfidence. It appeared he felt that his side now had the upper hand over his political enemies. And it seemed reconciliation was unnecessary for his side now.
In his address, made on the third anniversary of the 2010 dispersal of the red- shirts’ anti-government rally, Thaksin told his supporters why he was overthrown in a coup. He described himself as a good and capable person. But he opted to ignore certain facts, such as his alleged abuse of power and interference with independent organisations.
He also said that the yellow-shirt protesters faced no opposition while he was in power, although a rally was planned for his supporters on September 20, 2006. A coup was staged one day before that, and an excuse by the coup-makers was to avert possible violence due to confrontation between both sides.
Those facts were intentionally left out, possibly in the hope that people would forget because they happened some years ago.
Also, Thaksin opted not to mention the draft of a so-called reconciliation bill proposed by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung. The legislation draft is expected to be submitted to the House of Representatives later this week for deliberation. It would grant amnesty to all people involved in the recent political conflict since before the coup of September 19, 2006. All court cases resulting from the conflict would also be annulled retroactively, which means Thaksin would see his seized assets reinstated.
The proposed law is supposed to “restore justice” to all people involved in the conflict, but in fact the greatest beneficiary would be Thaksin.
If this draft is put into law, everyone involved – including the protesters, the protest leaders, the soldiers involved in the crackdown, as well as then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban (who are both blamed by the red shirts for the deaths of many protesters in 2010) – will be spared from legal prosecution.
If Thaksin made it clear that he preferred Chalerm’s draft, he could be viewed as using his supporters for his own benefit.
In his address, Thaksin said he backed another draft law proposed by Pheu Thai MP Worachai Hema that would give amnesty to all ordinary protesters, but not the protest leaders. However, earlier Thaksin had made a Skype call to a meeting of the ruling party’s MPs and told them that he wanted the amnesty law to “go the full way”. Thaksin’s remark prompted as many as 149 Pheu Thai MPs to sign in support of Chalerm’s draft law. Even Worachai admitted that Chalerm’s draft was better than his.
However, there were also signs of dissatisfaction among many red shirts and their MP sympathisers who pointed out that Chalerm’s draft would be unfair to the red shirts.
Thaksin appeared to be aware of the dissatisfaction, so he avoided mentioning Chalerm’s draft while addressing the red shirts. But he did not speak against it either. Chalerm, meanwhile, has not stopped his campaign for a general amnesty law.
Abhisit, the Democrat Party chief and opposition leader, said that if Thaksin was sincere, he should tell Chalerm to drop his draft law. Abhisit said he believed Thaksin actually preferred Chalerm’s legislation because it would benefit him most. However, he added, Thaksin voiced support for Worachai’s draft law because he did not want to upset the red shirts during their gathering.
It is likely that both Worachai’s and Chalerm’s drafts would be tabled for House deliberation. They could be merged to become new legislation. That means if the red shirts want amnesty for their fellow protesters facing legal trouble, they have to allow Thaksin to get amnesty for all his cases and to have his seized assets returned.