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General Sonthi Lobs Explosive Bill into House

The bill, sponsored by Matubhum Party leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin

 

CHIANGRAI TIMES –Today and tomorrow we will hear the war drum beaten through the political landscape, although the masses don’t appear to be in the mood for rallying.

Two potentially explosive issues – a change in the lese majeste law and amnesty for fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra – happen to be in the public spotlight at the same time.

This clash of political colours is expected to be settled by the Constitution Court and Parliament, in order to avoid a repeat of the violence that saw blood spilled in 2008 and 2010.

Of the two issues, the amnesty for Thaksin is likely to have a tangible impact – it could either end or widen the political divide. Proponents and opponents are gearing for a fiery debate.

The pro-Thaksin camp is determined to pave the way for him to return, while the anti-Thaksin camp is equally firm in trying to block any amnesty.

Tomorrow, the People’s Alliance for Democracy is scheduled to stage a symbolic march from Royal Plaza to Parliament, before lodging a demand for the reconciliation bill to be dropped from the House agenda.

Despite the government’s pledge not to rush the amnesty debate, the House has suspiciously designated the bill for deliberation on Thursday. Coalition and opposition lawmakers are expected to decide whether to assign the bill as a priority item on the agenda.

If the House gives a green light to put the bill on the fast track, the amnesty debate will commence. Alternately, lawmakers can opt for a cooling-off period by choosing between two options – defeat the motion that it be given priority designation or refer the bill for vetting by the government.

The bill, sponsored by Matubhum Party leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin, is billed as a reconciliation draft although its provisions are essentially designed to grant amnesty for all involved in political disturbances from 2005 up till 2010. Thaksin would be a main beneficiary.

Last month the House debated the Sonthi report on reconciliation before referring the matter to the government for further scrutiny. Many understood that the government would sponsor the amnesty draft at a later date. So the Sonthi-sponsored bill has come as a surprise.

Unlike 2008 when the yellow shirts descended into the streets to protest a charter change because of suspicion of a move to absolve Thaksin of his conviction and punishment, this time round the PAD is not rushing to encamp on the streets.

But a number of draft provisions for amnesty in the bill seem to have so many loose ends that conflicting legal interpretations may have to be thrashed out by the Constitution Court. One of the contentious provisions is the constitutionality of repealing judicial verdicts involving Thaksin, rioters and 109 barred party executives.

The court battle will take time, hence there is no justification to protest in the streets at this juncture.

Given the complexity of legal issues involved, it remains unclear whether the government will simultaneously push for amnesty and a new charter.

As the charter rewrite has already been put on track, the government may wait to complete the new charter before tackling the amnesty issue. There is no reason for the government to risk inflaming political volatility.

On the other issue of amending provisions related to insults to the monarchy, the move is being spearheaded by the Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112, which is seen as close to the red shirts.

The 112 Campaign is a push to raise awareness about enforcement of the lese majeste law rather than a legislative move to have the law changed. Under the Constitution, the people are not sanctioned to sponsor a law on the monarchy. – Avudh Panananda

 

 

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