BANGKOK – Thailand’s military installed government is mulling an amnesty plan aimed at national reconciliation, venturing down a path that sparked mass street protests that eventually brought down deposed premier Yingluck Shinawatra in May.
A decade of political conflict in Thailand has elicited numerous arrests, court cases and convictions, spurred by insurrections, arson attacks, illegal street occupations and even, airport shutdowns that have loosely been attributed to a rural-urban divide.
In rare interviews with Thai political leaders, Channel News Asia explains why political amnesty remains a controversial and emotionally charged issue in Thailand with previous efforts failing.
The People’s Democratic Reform Committee opposed the blanket amnesty introduced by the Yingluck government last year and led months-long protests in Bangkok that started in November 2013. But a leader in the party says it’s important to look at the issue to help reconcile differences between various political camps, though the extent of any pardons, particularly for corruption-related charges, raise the issue of whether figures such as self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra would be covered.
“I don’t oppose all forms of political amnesty,” said Thaworn Senneam, a People’s Democratic Reform Committee core leader. But “from the 204 days of street protest with the PDRC, I can safely say that many are well aware about the effect of distorting political amnesty to benefit those accused of corruption. If it happened again then I think more people will come out to protest.”
The United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship who had taken to the streets in 2010 say there must be limitations to the scope of political amnesty for any bill to be acceptable to its supporters. Popularly known as the Red Shirts, they had been allied to the former ruling Pheu Thai Party headed by Yingluck Shinawatra. “We’ve maintained our original stance that ordinary people should get political amnesty, whereas all political leaders should not,” said Jatuporn Prompan, a Red Shirt core leader.
“This includes leaders from our group (Red Shirt), the PDRC, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (Yellow Shirt), and members of the Democrat Party. For the leaders, we should let justice run its course.” Observers say as a result, the military government needs to tread cautiously. “The word amnesty has been stigmatized,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.
“It depends on the coverage of the amnesty. And the amnesty itself has to be clear and transparent. Parameters have to be set; what is covered, what is not covered, what is the main mission. As a concept, I think it is necessary to have some kind of a clearance, so that we can have reconciliation.” The military declined to comment on the reconciliation idea until it has been finalized, but the government’s Reconciliation Center for Reform will hold more than 4,000 public forums over the next six months across Thailand to gauge public sentiment.