Friday, November 8, 2013

Thailand: Update--Government-Backed Amnesty Bill Sparks Prolonged Political Unrest

According to Reuters, Thailand's Senate on Friday (November 8) delayed debate on a government-backed amnesty bill that has sparked mass protests, in a decision that could prolong political unrest even further.

Observers say the bill is aimed at bringing former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, back from self-exile without serving jail time.

Thaksin, still adored by his mostly poor, rural supporters, but distrusted by many members of the establishment, was convicted in absentia in 2008 of corruption.

Unfortunately, Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, 46, is now prime minister, creating a huge conflict of interest for her.

The lower house of Parliament passed the political amnesty bill, which has gone to the upper house, the Senate. Yet, a group of 40 Senators boycotted Friday's session, which failed to attract the minimum number of 75 members needed for debate.

COMMENT: "Due to a lack of quorum, debate of this amnesty bill has been moved to Monday (November 11)," said Senate Speaker Nikom Wairatpanij.

Nevertheless, Thaksin, a billionaire and former telecom tycoon, soon discovered that corruption scandals eroded his popularity among Bangkok's middle class that was compounded by royalist accusations that he was undermining the powerful monarchy, which he denied.

Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 and lives in Dubai, but is widely believed to be pulling the strings of government from abroad. He remains a hugely divisive figure at home.

The debate on Monday (November 11) will coincide with a sensitive ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on disputed land next to the centuries-old Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border.

Thaksin promoted close ties with Cambodia when he was prime minister and his enemies have accused him of not defending Thai interests in relation to the border dispute, which has triggered sporadic clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops.

It is completely understandable why the amnesty bill is so polarizing, as it would absolve all leaders and protesters involved in unrest since 2004 of any wrongdoing, leaving Thaksin able to return to his homeland where he could "stir the pot" behind the scenes, thereby placing his sister, the Prime Minister, in a very delicate, conflicted and tenuous situation.

Many of Thaksin's supporters criticize it for protecting leaders of a 2010 government led by the Democrat Party, who now head the opposition, who ordered the use of live ammunition to disperse pro-Thaksin protesters. About 90 people were killed in weeks of unrest.

In a televised speech on Thursday (November 7), Yingluck called for an end to the protests and said her government would not re-introduce the bill if it was rejected by the Senate.

Knowing Thailand and Thai politics as I do, it is believed that Yingluck may secretly be hoping that the Senate kills the amnesty bill, a product of her own government. If not, she will face fierce criticism from the Thai public who will allege that she "cooked the books" to help her brother return to Thailand, which could complicate inhanced governmental instability.