BANGKOK – Thailand’s legislation to grant amnesty to those involved in previous mass protests and army crackdowns on protesters sailed through the House of Representatives in the wee hours of Friday.
After 19 hours of heated debate punctuated with floor protests by both sides of the parliament aisle, the lawmakers voted 310 to pass the bill in its third and final reading while none voted against it at about 04.30 a.m. Friday.
The amnesty bill, pushed by the Pheu Thai (For Thais) Party-led government under Lady Premier Yingluck Shinawatra, was designed to grant amnesty on “comprehensive” basis. It is yet to be deliberated by the Senate, which is slated for later this month.
The opposition Democrat Party lawmakers, who staged a walkout in protest of the bill ahead of the wee-hour voting, are vehemently opposed to the government legislators’ design not only to give pardon to ordinary protesters including those currently detained in prison but to leaders of the protesters and former government heads, including Thaksin Shinawatra, brother of the incumbent premier, and opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Abhisit, allegedly held responsible for the 2010 army crackdowns on Red Shirt protesters which resulted in the deaths of nearly 100 people and injuries of some 2,000 others in Bangkok’s major streets, said his party will shortly petition the Constitutional Court to judge whether the amnesty bill is constitutional or not.
Meanwhile, the Democrat MPs, led by former deputy premier Suthep Thuagsuban, joined a gathering of thousands in protest of the bill near Samsen railway station, about three kms from the parliament.
The protest site is adjacent to restricted areas declared off- limits to the demonstrators under the Internal Security Act which cover the neighborhoods of parliament and Government House.
Suthep, who took turns to chair the now-defunct Center for Resolution of the Emergency Situation, which had allegedly given orders to the troops to fire live ammunition on the Red Shirt protesters during the army quelling three years ago, told the crowd that he and his party colleagues will not give up until the bill has been aborted by any means or the Yingluck government has withdrawn it from the legislative proceedings.
Many of the demonstrators came from the provinces, mostly from the southern region, by train and disembarked at the railway station to join the protest led by political figures. Pavilions were set up on the perimeters of the rally site where food was given for free to the demonstrators.
National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanathabut said the anti-amnesty protest might be prolonged and the number of the protesters might significantly increase, especially during weekends.