A proposed royal pardon for thousands of Thailand’s convicted criminals, including the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has provoked an angry response from the opposition and Yellow Shirt leaders, threatening more political upheaval in the country that is also dealing with a flood crisis.
Analysts say the return of Thaksin, 62, without his having to serve time in jail for corruption, would provoke new protests as the government struggles to overcome the country’s worst floods in half a century.
Thaksin, who is the elder brother of the Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is a deeply divisive figure in Thailand, claiming his 2008 corruption conviction was a set-up by his political enemies.
Tens of thousands of Thaksin’s supporters rallied for months on Bangkok’s streets last year before the protests turned violent, resulting in the deaths of more than 90 people.
A leader of the anti-Thaksin Yellow Shirts, Sondhi Limthongkul, described the proposed pardon as a ”most despicable act” and warned that his People’s Alliance for Democracy would not allow it to happen.
”We’re studying the substance of the decree and we will meet to decide our moves at the first opportunity,” Mr Sondhi said.
The opposition leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, said allowing Thaksin to walk free would set a dangerous precedent for the Thai justice system, adding: ”A pardon should only be granted to those who are incarcerated and show remorse.”
Mr Abhisit said the opposition would oppose the pardon as it is vetted by a high-level advisory body, the Council of State, before the 84th birthday on December 5 of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Although royal pardons are officially decreed by the King on his birthday each year, their terms are drafted by the government.
This year’s birthday is considered especially auspicious in the Buddhist calendar because it completes the end of the King’s seventh 12-year cycle of life.
Ms Yingluck’s cabinet agreed this week to endorse the pardons for criminals who are 60 years or older and sentenced to less than three years in jail.
In a break from the past, however, this year’s proposed decree included fugitives who have not served any of their sentences, which applies to Thaksin, who has been living in Dubai for much of the past five years.
Government critics say he has been playing a central role in his sister’s decision-making since she was swept into office three months ago.
Ms Yingluck was not present at the cabinet meeting that approved the decree. She is now in Bali for the East Asia Summit.
Government leaders were furious that details of the decision were leaked to the media.
Ms Yingluck has been fiercely criticised for her handling of the floods that have killed hundreds and affected the lives of almost 3 million others. Large areas of Bangkok remain inundated.