Many political observers think the former PM was indicted to spark an amnesty deal, writes Asia Sentinel’s Richard S. Ehrlich
Thailand’s former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy officially denied murder charges on Dec. 13 in Bangkok, saying they weren’t responsible for troops who allegedly shot dead a taxi driver during a May 2010 protest against Abhisit’s widely despised administration.
The murder charges, first announced a week ago, carry a maximum penalty of death and were brought against the two politicians by the Department of Special Investigations, Thailand’s version of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Abhisit and his former deputy prime minister for security affairs, Suthep Thaugsuban, were not detained after being questioned.
The charges against the two have been branded unprecedented in Thai law by legal scholars, who point out that no charges have ever been filed in previous attacks on protesters in the so-called Black May crackdown in 1992 led by Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon, in which 52 people were gunned down and an unknown number were disappeared before King Bhumibol Adulyadej stepped in to stop the bloodletting. Another crackdown, ordered in 1976, resulted in the deaths of 46 students at Thammasat University who were demonstrating against the return to power of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn.
In fact, the arrests of the two are widely viewed by political observers in Thailand as extremely unlikely to result in conviction or execution. They appear to be a political gambit by the ruling Pheu Thai Party to put Abhisit’s Democrat Party on the back foot, analysts say. Pheu Thai for months has been seeking ways to pressure the opposition into accepting a broad amnesty that would include allowing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s exiled brother, Thaksin, to return to Thailand from his bolt-hole in Dubai.
“It’s a political game and a way for Pheu Thai to gain the upper hand by forcing their opposition to accept some sort of amnesty deal,” Kan Yuenyong, director of Siam Intelligence Unit, a think tank in Bangkok, told Reuters last week.
For one thing, the charges leave far too many others out of the affair, including Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha, the current commanding chief of the armed forces and the man who ran the military operation against the civilians, of whom more than 90 were shot and killed. Prayuth today remains in power with no charges contemplated against him, or against any other senior military officials for their role in firing on the frequently violent protestors.
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