CHIANGRAI TIMES – Anti-government protesters have brought Thailand’s parliament to a halt, surrounding the complex and forcing the speaker to postpone debate on a reconciliation bill that critics say is aimed at allowing a deposed prime minister to return home.
The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), known as yellow shirts, oppose the bill because they say the government will use a blanket amnesty to bring back self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra without him having to serve jail time for a graft conviction.
“I have ordered the meeting to be postponed indefinitely to preserve the atmosphere and peace in the country. We’ll have to analyse the situation before determining when the meeting will be held again,” the speaker, Somsak Kiatsuranont, told reporters.
Thai politics has been riven by rivalry between supporters and opponents of Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon, since he was ousted in a military coup in 2006.
Financial market investors are becoming concerned about the possibility of unrest. The Bank of Thailand governor, Prasarn Trairatvorakul, said on Wednesday it could hurt the economy, which has barely recovered from devastating floods last year.
More than 1,000 demonstrators, wearing yellow shirts and holding banners with anti-government slogans, had gathered around parliament. Rally leaders set up a truck as a makeshift stage and took turns denouncing the government’s national unity proposals as hundreds of riot police secured the parliament building.
“We need to deal with this government. If they don’t listen to us, the PAD are experts at getting rid of prime ministers,” Chamlong Srimuang, a yellow-shirt leader, told the cheering crowd.
The government, elected last July, is led by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, but he is widely seen as pulling the strings from his base in Dubai.
Thaksin fled into exile in August 2008, shortly before he was sentenced to a two-year jail term for a conflict of interest case levelled by graft-busters appointed by the military junta that toppled him. He denies wrongdoing.
The yellow shirts, drawn broadly from the ranks of the urban middle class and supporters of the traditional royalist-military elite, staged mass rallies against Thaksin before he was ousted in a coup in September 2006.
They also helped undermine a pro-Thaksin government in 2008, holding protracted rallies and forcing the closure of Bangkok’s two airports for a week, just before the courts disbanded the government that December.
That led to the rise of the pro-Thaksin “red shirt” movement, attracting support largely the poorer sections of society, which closed parts of central Bangkok for seven weeks in 2010.
The national reconciliation bill proposes an amnesty for those guilty of crimes related to Thailand’s six-year political crisis.