Thai opponents of exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra rallied outside Parliament overnight to thwart efforts to exonerate him in one of the biggest challenges to his sister’s nine-month-old government.
The People’s Alliance for Democracy, whose yellow-shirted royalist members helped remove two Thaksin-linked governments, will gather about 7,000 people outside Parliament House, organizer Tul Sitthisomwong said by phone. Lawmakers plan to debate several drafts of a law providing amnesty for certain charges since the military ousted Thaksin in 2006, including one proposed by former coup leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin.
“This is only to give a pardon to Thaksin Shinawatra,” Tul said. “Everybody who wants to protect the justice system of the country will join us.”
The protests occur as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, hosts business executives and politicians including Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week at the World Economic Forum. Renewed discord may pose a threat to growth in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy, central bank Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said yesterday.
“If the political disputes turn violent, that will be negative” for the economy, he told reporters in Bangkok. “We have to see whether the protests will be contained.”
Thailand’s benchmark SET Index (SET) fell 1.3 percent yesterday, tracking declines in markets across Asia. The baht, which has lost 0.9 percent over the past five days, gained 0.1 percent.
“We can’t let this law pass, whichever version it is, because it will cause the most serious damage to the nation that we’ve ever seen,” protest leader Chamlong Srimuang said on May 29. Sonthi, who led the Thai military’s 10th successful power seizure since absolute monarchy ended in 1932, was “the worst coup leader ever,” Chamlong added.
The Yellow Shirts rallied thousands of supporters before the coup and occupied Bangkok’s international airport for eight days in 2008 to oust allies of Thaksin who won an election that restored democracy.
Thaksin’s supporters responded by forming a group called the Red Shirts, whose two-month occupation of the capital’s main shopping and tourist districts in 2010 led to a military crackdown that killed more than 90 people.
About 700 police officers are ready to handle the protests, deputy police spokesman Jak Jittham told reporters on May 29. Police expect 3,000 Thaksin opponents and 2,000 supporters to rally near Parliament, he said.
“We will accommodate them and won’t obstruct them,” Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung told reporters on May 29. “Society will decide who is right, who is wrong. We have rules in place here. We will definitely not use violence.”
The main opposition Democrat party opposes the reconciliation bill and supports lawful protests against it, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday.
“The nation’s justice system and righteousness are about to be destroyed if the reconciliation law enters the parliament and gets approved,” he said on Blue Sky Channel, a broadcaster backed by his party. “We shouldn’t call it a reconciliation law because it is a law to erase wrongdoings.”
Yingluck’s ruling Pheu Thai party, which controls a majority in the 500-member House of Representatives, is submitting three variations of the bill in addition to the former coup leader’s proposal, spokesman Prompong Nopparit said.
Those bills are largely similar, he said by phone. One proposed by a group of Red Shirt protesters wouldn’t allow amnesty for the 2008 airport seizure or 2010 military crackdown against Thaksin’s supporters.
“There are people who oppose the reconciliation because they will be disadvantaged in politics,” Deputy Agriculture Minister Nattawut Saikuar, who led Red Shirt protests in 2010, told reporters. “If we are afraid to lead the nation ahead, we will be in the dark and the damage will be more severe.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at firstname.lastname@example.org; Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at firstname.lastname@example.org