Opposition mounts against amnesty bill

national November 02, 2013 00:00

By The Nation

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Many groups vow to intensify agitation after House pushes through draft law in predawn hours



OPPOSITION INTENSIFIED yesterday against a government-proposed bill that would grant blanket amnesty to all law offenders before and after the 2006 coup, after passage of the draft law by the House of Representatives before dawn yesterday.
 
In addition to the opposition Democrat Party, which is holding a rally against blanket amnesty near Bangkok’s Samsen railway station, different groups of people and organisations yesterday expressed their strong disagreement to the proposed amnesty law. 
 
If the bill becomes law, it will absolve all those responsible for the deaths and injuries of people during the recent anti-government street protests. All criminal offenders and politicians accused or convicted of corruption would also benefit from the amnesty law, in addition to ordinary protesters.
 
The Democrats will next focus on persuading senators not to vote for the amnesty bill during the Senate deliberation, according to a party source.
 
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva will also address protesters at the Samsen rally despite concern that the party’s political enemies might use his presence to take legal action and possible dissolution of the main opposition party, the source said,
 
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday that she was worried about the situation but expressed hope that the growing opposition would not lead to violence.
 
“It is difficult to predict whether the protest will be prolonged. But we [the government] will do our best to maintain peace,” she said. “From our experience, nobody will want to see a bad incident happen to Thailand again. We don’t want to see any loss.”
 
Fearing violence, the Stock Exchange of Thailand’s main index yesterday lost 13.80 points or 0.96 per cent to end at 1,429.08, on thin turnover of Bt29 billion.
 
Some intellectuals in the red-shirt movement, which serves as the main support base of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, reacted angrily at its push for blanket amnesty.
 
Red-shirt leader Sombat Boon-ngam-anong, in a Facebook message, said Pheu Thai and ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra would have to take responsibility for any consequence of the successful push for blanket amnesty. “Don’t worry that the red shirts will overthrow a government that we voted in. But there is no guarantee or obligation that we will vote you to form a government again next time,” he said.
 
Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun said Pheu Thai MPs had “betrayed the red shirts in an inexcusable way”. He said the blanket amnesty would legitimise the killings of protesters in 2010. “This was a disgusting act,” he said, referring to the bill.
 
A small group of students from Thammasat University, some of them pro-red shirts, yesterday submitted a letter to Pheu Thai at its headquarters, voicing opposition to the blanket amnesty. They said amnesty should be given only to protesters who had violated the law, and not those responsible for the deaths of protesters.
 
Several organisations yesterday also opposed the blanket amnesty.
 
The Rural Doctor Society, which has some 4,000 members, issued a statement against the bill. It urged medical workers across the country to oppose the bill until the government withdraws it and instead proceeds with the people’s draft, which limits amnesty to people who joined political demonstrations.
 
The Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) sought help from the international community, while other business organisations are also concerned about the development. ACT yesterday submitted a statement to the US Embassy in Bangkok expressing its concerns over the amnesty bill and arguing that the bill supported graft and the whitewashing of wrongdoers.
 
The Thai Chamber of Commerce will announce its stand next week, pending responses from all 77 provincial chambers.
 
The National Human Rights Commission, in an open letter to the prime minister and the Senate Speaker, called on them to maintain support and respect for human rights. 
 
A group of academics at Khon Kaen University yesterday began a signature campaign against the draft law. Associate Professor Chavalit Pairojkul of the faculty of medicine said many academics at the university disagreed with the push for blanket amnesty, particularly over the fact that corrupt politicians would benefit. 
 
“We have agreed to express our opposition. If the government still ignores this reaction, there will be a strike, and people will join the protests in Bangkok,” he said.
 
Meanwhile, Democrat leader Abhisit insisted that the controversial amnesty bill was unconstitutional and that the party would petition the Constitutional Court for a legal interpretation.
 
Abhisit argued that the vetting process of the bill was unconstitutional and that the House Speaker’s actions undermined public confidence in the parliamentary system. He also urged the Senate to oppose the bill and said his party would file a petition in the Constitutional Court for legal interpretation once the Upper House finished vetting the bill.
 
Abhisit made the statement hours after the special session of the House of Representatives voted 310-0 to pass the third reading of the bill early yesterday. Four Pheu Thai MPs – Nuttawut Saikuar, Weng Tojirakarn, Worachai Hema, Khattiya Sawasdipol – abstained from the voting. 
 
The House session ended at 4.20am. The third reading passed after 19 hours of heated debate and protests that interrupted the meeting. Many Democrat MPs booed and jeered as they vented their anger at the ruling Pheu Thai MPs for their attempts to ram the bill through. The protests failed to deter House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont, who insisted on swift and continuous voting on articles of the bill, which sailed through the second and third readings. The House Speaker closed the session at 4.25am.
 

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