Worachai Hema, a Samut Prakan Puea Thai Party MP sponsored the amnesty bill that went to parliament for discussion. It was a proposal that had the support of the official red shirts. As PPT posted back in early August, of a plethora of proposals on amnesty, this was the version that had widest support.
It was supported because it was rooted in the struggle for accountability and justice that red shirts led following the murders of April and May 2010. The proposed bill did not spare the military or leaders of political factions, seeking to pardon only low-ranking members of these groups. Thaksin Shinawatra, backing down from previous statements that saw him angling for a pardon, publicly supported Worachai’s proposal.
Thaksin’s about-face was to shore up his alliance with red shirts and to moderate opposition to the Yingluck Shinawatra government.
All that amounted to political good sense. But by an act that is amnesiac, self-destructive or gross political arrogance that good sense has been undone, with Puea Thai politicians and the party’s leadership appearing to have suffered a collective political brain failure as the amnesty bill can now be branded as being a bill for Thaksin. This is because the committee reportedly expanded the definition of “amnesty to include people found guilty by groups or ‘organisations set up after the military coup on Sept 19, 2006’.” Reportedly, it “also seeks to absolve all people involved in political unrest, including soldiers, protest leaders and authorities.” It means no accountability and impunity.
The only group left out of this blanket amnesty? You guessed it: “those found guilty of lese majeste offences under Section 112 of the Criminal Code would be excluded from the revised section’s coverage.” Yes, lock people up for supposedly “dangerous speech” but let the state’s murderers go free.
As demonstrated by the Bangkok Post, the revision to the Worachai proposal allows opponents to justifiably claim that the amendment is “clearly intended to help fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.” While Worachai “attempted to placate opponents, saying MPs could always make further changes when it comes back to the House for second and third readings,” considerable political damage has been done.
In another report, Worachai “said he stood by his original version of the bill. He said when the revised bill reaches parliament for a second reading, he will ask lawmakers to stick to his version.” The process and decision-making involved appears a Homer Simpsonesque political moment.
The political damage includes allowing the anti-government alliance currently led and organized by the Democrat Party a cause for mobilization. It also damages the links with red shirts, both with the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship and with rank-and-file red shirts. Nothing could be worse for the Puea Thai Party.
The bill was approved on Friday in a Puea Thai-dominated parliamentary committee and already the Democrat Party and its allies are laughing all the way to the political bank.
Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut really has been given something to mouth off about, saying “all party branches would be directed to mobilise members to show their opposition to the bill.” His statement focused on the bill being crafted for Thaksin.
At The Nation it is reported that the Democrat Party is already planning to “lead an[other] anti-government rally once the government-sponsored amnesty bill is passed by Parliament.” That may be a way off, but why is the Puea Thai Party so keen to hand their opponents a battle cry and to provide Abhisit Vejjajiva with instant credibility? And, it would let Abhisit and his former deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban off murder charges. Puea Thai brain failure or arrogance?
In putting red shirts offside, another Bangkok Post reports the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship “leadership said yesterday it was unlikely they would accept the revised amnesty bill offering a blanket reprieve.” Showing good sense, “UDD chair Tida Tawornseth insisted that the UDD still adhered to the original version of the bill…”.
Thida said “she believed most red-shirt supporters will oppose the revised version if it grants amnesty to authorities responsible for the crackdown on red-shirt protesters in 2010, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and … Suthep Thaugsuban.”
Clearer political thinking is required from Puea Thai and Thaksin needs to once more support the original Worachai proposal.