The prime minister and foreign minister appeared to distance themselves yesterday from Deputy Premier Chalerm Yoobamrung's declared attempt to bring fugitive ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra back to Thailand as a free man.
Chalerm also stressed yesterday that his push for a reconciliation law, which would result in amnesty for people linked to political conflict in recent years, did not involve the ruling Pheu Thai Party, the government, or Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Asked about the likelihood of Thaksin coming back to the country this year, as Chalerm had said, Yingluck just said yesterday: “He cannot return.”
The prime minister said it was Chalerm’s personal view, adding that the matter would depend on Parliament, and not any one person. “We believe that everyone will act with the public interest and national benefit in mind,” she said.
She also denied the government’s support for constitutional changes was aimed at ensuring any one person’s return to Thailand.
In 2008, Thaksin was sentenced to two years in jail for abuse of power, in a case based on an inquiry by the post-coup Assets Examination Committee. He left Thailand shortly before the court read its verdict and has been living in self-exile, mostly in Dubai.
Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said yesterday he was unaware of Chalerm’s plan to bring Thaksin back this year. “I don’t know about that. I didn’t follow it.”
He said that as a Thai citizen, Thaksin could return to Thailand under the current legal process, adding that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not provided any support in regard to the matter.
The foreign minister accused the opposition of trying to politicise the issue, and asked yellow-shirt protesters to “help build up the country and restore happiness for Thais”.
Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday that as head of the government, Yingluck could not deny being an interested party. “She has a conflict of interest, so she has to insist she is going to protect the national interest,” he said, referring to the fact that Yingluck is Thaksin’s younger sister.
Abhisit, also the Democrat Party leader, said the conflict was now between the country’s legal system and Thaksin, who was trying to avoid judicial power over him.
“Prime Minister Yingluck must represent the state in maintaining the rule of law and the legal principle so that the country can go forward,” he said, in an interview to the pro-Democrat, satellite-based Blue Sky Channel.
Chalerm, meanwhile, said he never consulted with the prime minister about any plan to secure Thaksin’s return. He said because Thaksin and Yingluck were siblings, the prime minister should have nothing to do with the matter.
“If Abhisit wants to know about this in detail, he should ask me,” Chalerm said.
The veteran politician said he had campaigned for Thaksin’s return since 2009. He would propose the reconciliation law by relying on at least 20 Pheu Thai MPs to sponsor the bill, adding that “every affected element would benefit”. He cited Article 142 of the Constitution, which states that a bill may be introduced by at least 20 members of the House of Representatives.
Chalerm said he had no need to whitewash Thaksin’s wrongdoing “because he never committed any. There is no need for him to get an amnesty or pardon.”
He declined to comment when asked about the court verdict against Thaksin in the Ratchadaphisek land scandal, in which the ex-premier was sentenced to two years in jail for abuse of power.
Yingluck had no involvement in his push for the reconciliation law and he had never talked with Thaksin about it, he said.
Chalerm declined to be specify whether Thaksin would return to Thailand this year. “I insist I will do it [push for the law]. If the reconciliation act succeeds, all sides will have no problems. I’m confident I will be able to do it,” he said.