Pavin in WSJ:
Ms. Yingluck and Mr. Thaksin have so far executed an effective double game, with the former frequently bowing to the traditional elite while the latter maneuvers behind the scenes to consolidate power at the expense of establishment interests. The thrust to amend the constitution is part of Mr. Thaksin’s carrot-and-stick tactics, which are splitting the establishment camp.
The military has remained conspicuously silent about the government’s plan to pass reconciliation bills to grant amnesty for crimes committed during political upheavals. That would allow Mr. Thaksin to return to Thailand, reclaim assets confiscated by the courts and re-enter politics. Given that the military staged a coup in 2006 to remove him, its acquiescence now might seem surprising.
But the military would be one of the main beneficiaries of an amnesty, since it would be “off the hook” for any culpability in the deaths of almost 100 pro-Thaksin protesters in 2010. In May, state prosecutors said that they had compiled enough evidence to implicate the military in as many as 18 of 92 protest-related deaths. One military insider has said publicly that the top brass and all generals in line for promotion want the reconciliation bills to move ahead.
A few months back, Crispin in Asia Times with a piece entitled “Daring double game in Thailand”:
While Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has taken a conciliatory tack to the country’s still unresolved seven-year-old political conflict, her self-exiled elder brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and his advisers have worked from behind the scenes to consolidate political power at the expense of rival royalist establishment interests.
Bureaucratic reshuffles, newly laid or threatened criminal charges and proposed constitutional changes have all enhanced the criminally convicted Thaksin’s negotiating leverage vis-a-vis royalist power centers, including in the military, judiciary and palace, to achieve a political amnesty that would restore his court-confiscated wealth and ultimately allow for his return to Thailand as a free man.
A new drive to achieve an amnesty through parliamentary means has met predictable resistance from the opposition Democrat party and anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest group, and raised the specter of new instability after over a year of relative political calm.
Recommendations submitted by a local think-tank to a parliamentary reconciliation subcommittee proposed an amnesty for offenses committed on both sides of the political divide and a reversal of decisions handed down against Thaksin by military coup maker-created bodies.
BP: When Crispin wrote that a few months ago, BP thinks you can say “yes” Yingluck and Thaksin were playing an effective double game. But now? Not sure that BP would agree with Pavin now. There was a possibility of following the KPI amnesty proposal by first holding public hearings. The Speaker conceded this should be done, but this concession only came after the reconciliation bills had been introduced and postponed and we had protests. BP has been trying to figure out Thaksin’s rationale for introducing the reconciliation bills at that time. To test the waters? Was the strong reaction unexpected? No. It is like turning on an oven element and touching it to see if it is hot. Yes, of course it is. The bills were introduced and then postponed, a week later. So what was achieved? Nothing. If this is part of some master plan then it must be a very long game before it will bear fruit as now there are no signs it has worked.
Pushing through the constitution amendments was always going to be hard because the establishment cares less about amnesty than the constitution amendments. Amnesty is mostly just a bargaining chip in dealing with Thaksin. As noted in the articles above (in Crispin’s article, you will need to click the link and scroll down), there are benefits for the military with a collective amnesty. Thaksin is unlikely to return anytime soon, or if he does fly into Thailand, it will be for very brief periods of time and he will likely keep a low profile, like he did in 2008. As Crispin notes, the possibility he could be killed, is a real possibility. You just need to see the precautions he took back in 2008 when he returned. Yes, there is a prestige thing for Thaksin, but do the establishment really suffer if there is an amnesty? No. They can also use it to extract concessions out of Thaksin.
The establishment really care about the constitutional amendments as this is the most effective way they have of controlling things. It would have been much more difficult to protest against constitutional amendments if the reconciliation bills had been properly put on the back burner. Before the introduction of the reconciliation bills, the PAD had planned to protest against the amendments, but abandoned those plans. The introduction of the reconciliation bills changed the dynamic, increased the political tensions, and made it easier for the court to intervene with their suggestion/advice.
A few months ago you could have said that Thaksin and Yingluck were playing an effective double game. Now, Yingluck is still playing her role and while her popularity has dropped slightly, it is still in the early 60s and polls show a clear majority want her to serve out her term. There is no sign that there is a popular movement against Yingluck. For Thaksin though and his tactics, can it still be said he is playing an effective double game? Recently, no. He overplayed his hand and got burnt. What is his next play?