Uneasy calm after 1st reading

national August 09, 2013 00:00

By The Nation

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Democrats vow strong opposition to amnesty bill, plan to approach court

Thai politics has entered a period of jittery calm after yesterday’s passage of an amnesty bill in the first reading by the House of Representatives.
The House vetting committee, consisting of MPs from both the coalition and the opposition, will next work on the bill proposed by a group of MPs from the ruling Pheu Thai Party. It remains to be seen if the panel will vet the draft law in a way that would cover fugitive former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, as has been feared by opposition politicians and critics. 
Normally it takes about 30 to 45 days for a House vetting committee to complete its work, before a bill is returned to the House for the second reading and voting by MPs in the third and final reading.
Opposition Democrat MPs have threatened to take to the streets with their supporters if the bill passes the Lower House. They lost in the first round yesterday when the bill passed the first reading by 300 votes to 124, with 14 abstentions. After two more votes in the Lower House, the bill must pass three votes in the Senate before becoming law.
The Democrats also plan to take the matter to the Constitutional Court to seek a verdict on whether the amnesty bill is constitutional. Opposition MPs argue that it is a financial law and should have been endorsed by the prime minister. The anti-government People’s Army to Overthrow the Thaksin Regime, now rallying at Lumpini Park, has also threatened to protest against an amnesty law that would benefit Thaksin. 
Opponents of the proposed law also disagree on giving amnesty to offenders of severe criminal offences, including murder, arson, rioting and acts of terrorism. Besides a heated debate in the House, the situation was generally calm yesterday. The Stock Exchange of Thailand index closed at 1,447.16, up 17.17 points. Analysts attributed the rise to an easing of the tension over the amnesty bill.
Police will today recommend to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that the Internal Security Act (ISA), effective from August 1 to tomorrow, should be lifted a day earlier today, according to National Police chief General Adul Sangsingkaew. 
Meanwhile, an academic yesterday warned that the confrontation over the amnesty law could lead to another political stalemate.
Somjai Pakapaswiwat, an independent political-economic analyst, said that confrontation, violent or not, could lead to another political stalemate like the one witnessed in the past three years. He said that in the short term, this could affect tourism, although he was more worried about the long-term impact on the economy.
He noted that it was vital for Thailand to overcome the political impasse, especially as the entire region was moving towards regional integration. “Thailand is lucky in the way that investment is flowing in, as it is a part of Asean. But we can’t afford to not do anything that would enhance our competitiveness.” He said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s special train ride yesterday to brainstorm methods for Thailand’s rail network development, did not benefit the situation. He said amid deep division, government actions that drew trust from other parties were necessary.

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