Over the past 2 days, the yellow shirt protests were meant to be the focal point against the 4 reconciliation bills, or more accurately the amnesty bills. However, the number of yellow shirt protesters has been very low compared to the 2006 and 2008 protests (100,000+ and 50,000 at the height of those protests respectively).
The Nation estimates there were “3,000 yellow-shirt supporters” on Wednesday together with about 500 people from the like-minded multi-colored group. The Bangkok Post states “police estimated about 5,000 people joined the rallies, which ended about 10pm and will resume Thursday”. [UPDATE: For the protest numbers on Thursday, The Nation writes “some 1,000 supporters”]. So far the limited number of protesters hasn’t made an impact and this has been compounded by the opposition Democrat Party antics in parliament that have become the story.*
AP on what happened on Wednesday:
The street protests Wednesday were peaceful, but the scene was different in Parliament, where police had to keep order as the opposition Democrat Party sought to derail efforts to schedule debate on the bill. At one point, a female Democrat lawmaker dragged the House speaker’s empty chair off the podium, sparking a scuffle with government members of Parliament. A phalanx of policemen retrieved the chair.
The Nation on Wednesday:
Commotion began shortly after House Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranond, following three hours of heated debate, called for a vote to decide on whether deliberation on the bills should begin today, despite protests from opposition Democrat MPs who wanted the issue to be discussed further.
A group of Democrat MPs surrounded Somsak and tried to pull him out of his seat, while some started miming the Nazi salute in front of him. A confrontation ensued when a group of MPs from the ruling Pheu Thai Party came forward to protect Somsak, their party colleague.
Some 30 security officers gathered later to guard the Speaker, who had turned pale and was obviously shaken up after the 10-minute commotion. He then called for a 15-minute break.
During the break, Democrat MP Rangsima Rodrassamee tried to remove the chairman’s chair, but was stopped by other female MPs of the ruling Pheu Thai Party.
Some witnesses said they saw Rangsima slap Pheu Thai MP Khattiyaa Sawasdiphol in the face during their tussle for the Speaker’s seat. However, both women denied the report, though Rangsima later told the pro-Democrat Blue Sky Channel television station that her hand might have touched Khattiyaa’s face during the tussle. However, Khattiyaa tweeted that she had not been slapped.
Following the chaos, the chairman decided to adjourn the House meeting until this morning, so there was no voting yesterday.
Below is video from Wednesday:
Then for Thursday:
The House of Representatives voted 272 to 2 to move the four reconciliation bills to top the meeting agenda so that they could be deliberated Friday morning.
An MP abstained and another was present but did not cast any type of the vote.
The four bills will be deliberated when the House convenes a meeting at 9:30 am Friday.
House Speaker Somsak Kiartsurasnon closed the meeting immediately after the voting.
During the vote, parliament policemen rushed out to surround the chairman’s bench to prevent Democrat MPs from rushing in to attack the speaker.
Some Democrat MPs were seen throwing copies of documents and books at the House speaker while he was rushing out of the assembly hall after the meeting was closed
The Bangkok Post:
The House of Representatives erupted into chaos when Mr Somsak cut short the opposition’s protest and called for a vote to decide if reconciliation bills should be moved to the top of the agenda.
Democrat MP Thana Chirawinit approached Mr Somsak’s bench and criticised him for serving Thaksin.
“Is there a Dubai stamp on the hammer [you’re holding]? Are you serving someone? What is the rush about? We MPs serve the people and do our job. Who are you to block us?” he said, referring to Thaksin, who lives in self-exile in Dubai.
A group of Democrat MPs then joined him. Some went up to Mr Somsak’s bench to demand that he relieve himself from duty. Pheu Thai MPs rushed to block the opposition as about 40 parliament police officers surrounded Mr Somsak.
The stand-off went on for 10 minutes before Mr Somsak called for a short recess and left the chamber under tight protection.
BP: Things clearly got badly out-of-hand today with a Democrat MP putting his hands around the neck of one Puea Thai MP (from video on the ThaiPBS evening news you can see it happens after the Puea Thai MP used his phone to take a photo of the Democrat MP although the Democrat MP was quickly pulled away by his colleagues). Abhisit help a presser per The Nation:
Abhisit said the Democrats would not apologise over what happened but the government would have to take responsibility for trying to push the reconciliation bills through the House.
Abhisit admitted that the Democrat’s image was affected by what happened on Wednesday but added that the Democrat MPs needed to stop a law that would severely damage the country.
“Nobody would like to see what happened. Our party’s image was affected to certain level but I think we can accept it if we can stop the law that would damage the country,” Abhisit said.
It is not unusual for oppositions to be upset at rulings of the Speaker and for a vote to be called. The Nation on February 11, 2011 on Puea Thai unhappiness over the ruling of the Speaker in the previous parliament:
Parliament convened on Friday for the roll-call vote lasting more than three hours to approve the final reading of two draft bills for charter amendments.
Before the vote, more than 100 opposition lawmakers walked out in protest for what they saw as unfair ruling by House speaker Chai Chidchob….
In the consultation session ahead of the vote, Pheu Thai MPs urged Chai to postpone the third and final reading of draft amendments.
They argued that they had moved a motion to question the procedures to amend the charter. The motion was filed and defeated during the second reading last month but the main opposition party wanted to revive the debate on pertinent issues.
The oppostion MPs argued for suspending the final vote and seeking the Constitution Court review on the draft. They said the draft might be unconsitutional since it failed to spell out the intent and justificaion for proposing the amendments.
Chai overruled the opposition arguments and proceeded with the vote. The opposition lawmakers have threatened to block the promulgation of the amendments by petitioning for a judicial review.
1. BP can understand why the Democrats want to protest against a bill called a Reconciliation Bill (which conveys the meaning that it will help achieve reconciliation). If the major opposition party is opposed to this it suggests there is not unity and hence we don’t have reconciliation. Nevertheless, the surprising thing is the strong and exaggerated reaction by the Democrats over a procedural vote. We are not even voting on the substance yet. This won’t start until today. What on earth are they going to do today to top this??? The focus of the news stories is not then on the substance of their arguments against the bill, but on their behavior in parliament. The PAD were much more disciplined comparatively. Is that really the look the Democrats want to go for now?
2. Yes, the core anti-Thaksin constituency, for which some factions of have not been happy with the Democrats for the last couple of years, will be happy with the Democrats strenuously opposing a Bill which will benefit Thaksin. The same applies in reverse. The red shirts who have been showing growing discontent with the government will see what is happening and will remind them on the alliance they have opposed over the last few years and push some of those back to Puea Thai.
* Lack of PAD protesters and thus lessens the chance of = part of the reason for strong reaction??