Long-sought amnesty bill bubbles to the surface again, reports Asia Sentinel

Tensions have been rising again in Thailand, with protesters taking to Lumpini Park in Central Bangkok Sunday in what might be considered a preemptive strike against any possibility that Thailand’s parliament might produce amnesty legislation that would allow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s fugitive brother, Thaksin, back into the country.

Although that raises questions whether the wheels, or maybe the wings, are about to come off the Pheu Thai government that took power in 2011, the consensus is that the government will prevail, with a certain amount of tension. A veteran western businessman told Asia Sentinel the government has managed to preserve relative calm, describing the situation as a kind of Goldilocks state, blowing neither too hot nor too cold. “My prediction is for no big problem,” he said by email.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Pic: AP.

The issue is the amnesty bill, which Pheu Thai has vowed to present on the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday and Thursday. The opposition Democrats have refused to cooperate and have demanded that the bill be withdrawn. The Democrats remain in disarray, with their power base pretty much confined to Bangkok.

Any time amnesty or constitutional reform looms, the protesters take to the streets. Pheu Thai leaders have been waiting for almost three years to attempt to push through a series of constitutional reforms after the document Thaksin put in place during his administration was emasculated at the behest of the military in the wake of the 2006 coup that drove him from power. But each time the issue has come up, street protest and tensions have shelved them. The Supreme Court delayed moves to pass legislation in 2012.

(READ MORE: Thailand: Reconciliation games continue as amnesty bill goes to parliament)

Party leaders deny that there is anything in the amnesty bill relating to a pardon for Thaksin, who remains in exile in Dubai, although he is widely assumed to be running the government by remote control through his sister and through her top advisors, most of whom served Thaksin during his period as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, when he was brought down by a royalist-backed coup while he was out or the country.

The issue of amnesty has been complicated by the government’s need to pass a US$80 billion fiscal plan for the current year and by the need to push through a US$100 billion supplementary spending document to upgrade the country’s creaky infrastructure, much of it to combat widespread flooding. With the amnesty issue blocking the government’s plans, the badly needed budget bill and the supplementary appropriation measure are on hold.

The coalition that came together in Lumpini Park Sunday included a wide range of protesters from several different camps including various permutations of the so-called Yellow Shirts, the pro-royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy and flock of former military officials who say their goal is to uproot “Thaksinism,” whether practiced by the 64-year-old fugitive or by his 46-year-old sister.

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