UPDATE (November 1, 8.00am) – By Saksith Saiyasombut
After an 18-hour marathon session ending at 4.20 am, parliament punched the Amnesty Bill through the second and third reading with 310 votes, while 4 MPs abstained: the red shirt leaders Natthawut Saikaur and Weng Tojirakarn, original bill sponsor Worachai Hema and Khattiya Sawasdipol, and the daughter of Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol aka “She Daeng”, the rogue general who supported the red shirt movement and was killed while giving an interview with The New York Times at the beginning of the 2010 crackdown. The opposition Democrat Party staged a walkout. The bill is now in the Senate for approval.
Yingluck’s efforts to bring her brother home face trouble, reports Asia Sentinel
After more than two years of ducking and weaving, it appears that Thailand’s ruling Pheu Thai Party is likely defy public outrage to push through a controversial bill granting blanket amnesty to participants on both sides of the barricades in bloody riots that took place in Bangkok in 2010 – and to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as well.
The bill is expected to bring thousands of protesters to the streets because of the amnesty to Thaksin, who has been in exile since 2008 when he refused to come home after being convicted in a Thai court of abuse of power. It is due for its final reading on Saturday. Sporadic protests have already taken place, with another scheduled for tonight and another major one on Saturday.
“It seems that the amnesty bill may eventually get through,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai political analyst who writes regularly for Asia Sentinel. “This will set free virtually everyone, including (former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva) and Thaksin.”
Pheu Thai holds a 252-seat majority in the 500 member House of Representatives and heads a strong governing coalition of six other parties that gives it a comfortable majority to push the bill through. Its real opposition is in the streets.
That is because, as a billionaire businessman-turned-politician, Thaksin remains a deeply polarizing figure, seven years after he was driven from the premiership by a royalist coup. Even if the amnesty goes through, it is doubtful that Thaksin could come home without facing outraged protesters. It seems more likely that he would stay overseas until the temperature cools somewhat, political observers said.
Thailand has remained relatively calm over the past three years since the May 2010 onslaught by the military against Red Shirt protesters aligned with Thaksin who occupied the center of Bangkok for more than two months. The army’s attack ended with the deaths of 90 people, most of them protesters against the then-Democrat Party-led government headed by Abhisit Vejjajiva. A major shopping center in the middle of Bangkok was destroyed, with the army blaming protesters for torching it and the protesters saying army tear gas grenades had caused the fires.
The Pheu Thai Party, headed by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck, has been maneuvering to present an amnesty bill that would grant Thaksin immunity from prosecution virtually ever since the party came to power in the 2011 elections. However, it has been thwarted from doing so by lingering public outrage at Thaksin, who faced wide-ranging charges of corruption, authoritarianism and muzzling the press when he was booted out. His so-called war on drugs was criticized for turning police loose to murder hundreds of people who were believed to have had nothing to do with either peddling or taking drugs.
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