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Setting the clock back to zero with an amnesty ain't so easy

The junta's denial last week of a plan to give former PM Thaksin Shinawatra an amnesty has raised doubts on whether there's a political time-bomb waiting to explode.

Granting Thaksin an amnesty is a dilemma that Thais have struggled with. The country may not move forward quickly and peacefully without an amnesty but giving a blanket amnesty that "sets the clock to zero", as sought by the Thaksin camp, would spark another round of political conflict.

Although the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has denied recent media reports that it planned to conduct an opinion survey on amnesty for political cases, an in-depth investigation has found that the NCPO did discuss the issue. But it will pass any decision-making to the National Legislative Assembly and the National Reform Council.

Sources from public prosecutors have commented that in accordance with international practice on amnesty, cases that are acceptable for an amnesty are legal disputes derived from different political ideas.

They must not be criminal offences or an offence against the state.

The prosecutors said cases against Thaksin that went to court after the Thaksin government was brought down by the 2006 military coup should not be dropped on grounds of political amnesty because the charge is malfeasance or abuse of authority is not a legal or political dispute. While the Thaksin camp claims these were trumped-up charges, the cases have been tried by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders.

Because Thaksin, who is living in exile abroad, has refused to come back to face trials, this senior court has temporarily shelved five cases on its lists, until he is brought to stand trial. The five cases are the two-and three-digit lottery case, the EXIM Bank soft loans extended to the Myanmar Government, a case related to changes to the mobile concession contract with Shin Corp, the false asset declaration case, and a case related to a loan extended by state-run Krung Thai bank to Krisada Mahanakorn Group.

Thaksin also filed a libel suit against former Assets Examination Committee member Kaewsan Atibodhi for accusing him of concealing wealth during a television programme.

The fugitive ex-PM has also filed a libel suit against former Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya for taking to the rally stage of the People's Alliance for Democracy and accusing Thaksin of "turning Thailand into his personal assets". Thai Day.Com and ASTV (Thailand) are co-defendants in this case.

The sources said since the NCPO has already imposed Article 44 and 47 in the interim charter that empowers it to legalise any issue, it could remove cases which would "reset the country's political clock to zero'' in other words, whitewash those involved.

But the fact is the ball is in the junta's court - the National Legislative Assembly has been put in place and the new government is about to be formed - so a blanket of amnesty may not come easily.

The prompt denial by the junta may provide some hints as to what the future holds for the Thaksin camp.


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