No consensus on scope of amnesty law

national February 18, 2013 00:00

By Political Desk
The Nation

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Amnesty for law violators involved in the political conflict since the coup of 2006 has become a hot topic and has led to heated public debate over who should benefit and who should be excluded.

No accord has been reached either as to whether an amnesty – general or limited – will eventually bring about national reconciliation as espoused by the proponents. A survey by The Nation of various groups has revealed a spectrum of views, ranging from a political cure-all to object of suspicion. Many say they do not think an amnesty law alone could lead to reconciliation. They are concerned that the corrupt politicians who ignited the conflict would also benefit from an amnesty they do not deserve.

The red shirts strongly back amnesty for the protesters although some of them want protest leaders to be excluded, in order to help keep the reconciliation efforts on track.

Banjerd Singkaneti, dean of law at the National Institute of Development Administration, does not think an amnesty would lead to social reconciliation.
To reach reconciliation, the suggestions from the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) about fact-finding should be heeded. Also, the offenders should show remorse for their wrongdoings before amnesty would be granted in the final step.
“It appears political leaders are taking the protesters hostage” for them to benefit from a general amnesty too, he added. Kanit Nanakorn, the chairman of the now-defunct TRCT, said amnesty was not part of his panel’s proposal.
“We presented all the proposals in the report. It depends on the people in power whether they want to do it,” he said.
Somsak Kosaisuk, a former leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and now a leader of the New Politics Party, agreed with the idea of giving leniency to political protesters. Excluding protest leaders would in practice be difficult since it was not clear how to specify who was a leader and who was not.
He also expressed concern that politicians from the ruling Pheu Thai Party might attempt to write an amnesty law in a way that benefited politicians accused of corruption, including former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
“To achieve reconciliation, all parties must first respect the law and the rules of the country. A law alone is unlikely to bring about reconciliation. All parts of society must join in the effort,” he said.
Suriyasai Katasila, coordinator for the Green Politics Group and also a former leader of the yellow-shirt PAD, said nobody would oppose amnesty for ordinary protesters who disobeyed the state of emergency or traffic laws. But criminal lawbreakers, such as those assaulting officials, did not merit amnesty. They should first undergo judicial proceedings.
“I don’t think an amnesty law will really create reconciliation. There are many conditions to achieve that,” he said. 
Trakoon Mechai, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, did not think an amnesty law could lead to reconciliation. The country’s conflict involved ideological beliefs about a proper political system for Thailand. It was not a personal dispute.
“The conflict will persist even with an amnesty law,” he said.
Tul Sittisomwong, leader of the royalist multicoloured-shirt movement, was also not convinced that amnesty would lead to reconciliation.
“It’s just about allowing law violators to go free without taking any responsibility,” he said.
The Pheu Thai-led government simply wants to help its supporters who were among the criminals.
“Protesters who did not commit criminal offences should be granted bail as quickly as possible. It’s been too long for them to be denied a temporary release,” he said.
“I don’t think the Pheu Thai Party or the government has the right to propose or push for amnesty, as they’re part of the conflict and were indirectly involved in the unrest.
 There’s clearly a conflict of interest.”
An Army officer who took part in the 2010 operation to disperse the red-shirt protests voiced opposition to an amnesty bill. Such a law would only encourage more violent demonstrations in the future. 
“People unhappy with the government will just take to the streets with no fear to the law,” he said.
“The government should carefully consider this matter. Don’t just think about benefits for certain groups of people.”
Most of the arrested red-shirt protesters were involved in serious offences, such as arson, assault and rioting, he added.
The red shirts and their families strongly back an amnesty law. However, those surveyed by The Nation did not think the protest leaders should benefit from the law.
Somsri Sa-nguansri, wife of Kamla Chuenchom, a red-shirt protester detained for stealing government firearms, believes that clemency would help reduce anger on both sides of the conflict, which could lead to reconciliation. 
Suspicion that the protest leaders of both sides would also benefit was a key obstacle to the effort to issue an amnesty law.
“So the leaders of all the political colours should declare that they don’t want to be entitled to amnesty,” she said.
Suda Rangkupan, coordinator of the January 29 Front red-shirt group, believes reconciliation would definitely be achieved if the amnesty bill is passed. 
She blamed the political conflict on the 2006 coup and said the amnesty law should benefit people from both sides covering offences from the coup to the House dissolution in 2011.
However, the leaders of both sides should give up their right to amnesty in order to lessen the mutual distrust over the matter. 
“Don’t let this mistrust prevent those who deserve amnesty from getting justice,” she said.
“Those are poor people who joined the protests to make their voices heard. They’re not criminals.” Tarit Pengdith, director-general of the Department of Special Investigation, said he was convinced that an amnesty law would be “a good thing for the country”. 
Most of the offences were not crimes and they stemmed from the political conflict.
“We should forgive and excuse all the parties so that our country will go forward.”
Former senator Wanlop Tangkananurak supported amnesty for the ordinary protesters from all political colours, except the leaders and politicians in power at that time, those found guilty of corruption and violators of the lese majeste law.
An amnesty law could help some of the political enemies to reconcile, but the real problem would not be solved as long as the elite were still in conflict.
“The leaders and powerful people of both sides must step back to avoid confrontation. And they must denounce any act that could lead to conflict again,” he said.
Padermpop Songkoh, managing director of Kasikorn Securities, was unsure if such legislation could lead to reconciliation as expected. However, without any violent conflict, the economy would not be severely affected.
Thawatchai Hengprasert, head of the Federation of Thai Industries’ northeastern chapter, expects the amnesty law to help ease the political tension. It was similar to the famous 66/2523 order issued by the Prem Tinsulanonda government in 1980, granting amnesty to communist insurgents and collaborators, which was credited for weakening communism in Thailand, he said.

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