Many amnesty ideas, but do any of them have support?
To grant amnesty or not, is not the key question. The question is whether an amnesty would really lead to genuine reconciliation.The Pheu Thai-led government should seriously ponder this question now that efforts have been stepped up to call for enactment of an amnesty law.
A series of calls for amnesty have been made recently and those behind the calls claimed the efforts were concerted ones. However, several signs indicated the calls or proposals had something in common, making the efforts appear collaborative.
It started with the proposal of the Nitirat group of lecturers from Thammasat University, who called for a charter amendment to make a new provision on amnesty. The proposal was a strong-medicine approach in line with Nitirat's style.
Nitirat proposed that only the demonstrators should be absolved. Their leaders would also benefit from the amnesty if they proved they led the protests because of political conflict, not because they were hired. Of course, those who were jailed under the lese majeste law would also receive the benefit.
But under Nitirat's proposal, no government officials would be absolved irrespective of whether they were officials carrying out the crackdown orders or they were the officials who gave the orders. Nitirat claimed the officials were already protected by the law if they had done nothing wrong. Refraining from granting amnesty to officials would also set a precedent for junior officials to refuse wrongful orders in future.
Of course, the Nitirat proposal was strongly criticised and the question raised as to why amnesty needed to be included among the country's highest laws. Critics said Nitirat had ignored the fact that junior officials would never know whether the orders they received were right or wrong.
Of course, Nitirat's proposal was rejected by the government although it was supported by the extreme leftist red-shirt group. But this red-shirt group is not a major one and it has definitely infuriated several mass groups that support the government. Even worse, Nitirat also linked the amnesty to the campaign for amendment of Article 112 on lese majeste, so the government could not comply with it.
Then the mainstream red-shirt movement, the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship, which has the biggest mass support, proposed its own amnesty draft executive decree. The DAAD called for the government to issue a decree to grant amnesty because it would be the fastest way.
The DAAD proposed that all groups of demonstrators who faced charges after the 2006 coup, should be absolved no matter if they were leaders or followers. The draft also proposed amnesty for junior officials but would exclude the top officials, who gave crackdown orders, from the amnesty.
But not all sides supported the proposal. The biggest drawback was the proposal to enact a decree. Doing so would bypass Parliament and would cause the opponents to seek a ruling from the Constitution Court as to whether it would be unconstitutional or not.
Just a few days after the DAAD proposal drew criticism, the independent National Rule of Law Commission, headed by Ukrit Mongkolnavin, came up with its own proposal. The NRLC proposed a bill similar to the DAAD's, but this time the amnesty would have to be approved by Parliament.
Ukrit's proposal has been so far the most appropriate and could win the most public acceptance.
On Tuesday, a group of red shirts, which called itself the January 29 Network for Freeing of Political Prisoners, held a rally to again pressure the government to amend the charter to include amnesty in the Constitution.
Following the pressure from this group, the government, which was about to adopt Ukrit's proposal, would have to think it over again as to which method it should use.
But the government could not ignore a key question. Will the amnesty really be needed for creating reconciliation? If the government is able to prove that amnesty is really needed for reconciliation, the public will definitely support it.
If not, the government should remain open for other options.