Worachai's amnesty bill just a trial balloon for govt

national August 02, 2013 00:00

By Somroutai Sapsomboon

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Fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra continues to be the key reason in the latest moves to oppose the amnesty bill proposed by Pheu Thai Party MP Worachai Hema, which will be debated in Parliament next Wednesday. However, opponents believe that the

The bill also seeks a pardon for red-shirt supporters jailed for offences during the government protests from September 19, 2006 to May 10, 2011. However, it excludes leaders of those political protests who also allegedly violated the law. 
In Worachai’s bill, “leaders” are defined as “those who have the power to give orders to a political movement or make decisions on its behalf”.
Was Thaksin a ‘leader’ then?
The answer depends on whom you ask.
Ordinary folks may consider Thaksin a “leader” because they believe the red shirts came out onto the streets to help Thaksin, and Thaksin kept phoning in during the rallies. He was also believed to be a big funder of the rallies.
 If you asked Pheu Thai Party MP Kokaew Pikulthong, who is also a red-shirt co-leader, the answer you would get is: “Thaksin is not a leader because he did not participate in the rallies. Leaders must be those who also joined the protests, such as myself. Also, the actions carried out at the rallies depend on the decisions made in the meetings of leaders.”
Kokaew also defended Thaksin by saying the money used in funding the protests came from various sources.
The definition of what constitutes a “protest leader” is likely to be made more precise by the related House committees. The court will be the final arbiter, if they fail to reach a decision.
But if Thaksin is not a leader, then what will he gain from the amnesty bill?
Thaksin was among those charged with “terrorism” along with 24 red-shirt leaders. An arrest warrant was issued for him on May 25, 2010. But if one looks more deeply, this may not be what Thaksin wants. 
He is more concerned about the seizure of his Bt46 billion assets and the court’s verdict to sentence him to two years in prison over the Ratchadaphisek land deal. There is also the Exim Bank case where Bt4billion was lent to Myanmar; the two- and three-digit lottery case and a case related to telecom excise tax policy. 
All these cases have left Thaksin unable to return home. 
So, if he wants to walk free, he needs a reconciliation bill that would grant general amnesty to all concerned parties and cases. 
Different versions of the reconciliation bill have already been tabled in the House. 
If Thaksin stands to gain little from any amnesty bill, why is the government so eager to push them through?
There are two important reasons.
Firstly, the Yingluck administration is pushing for amnesty in order to please the red shirts. 
Amnesty is something the red shirts have been demanding since the government came to power. 
If it fails to pass, it won’t trouble the government much, because this is not what Thaksin truly wants, but it will demonstrate to red-shirt supporters that the government has tried to meet their demands.
Secondly, it is an opportunity to test the strength of anti-government forces – whether the government can push forward with the reconciliation bills or whether it needs to back off.

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