Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Saturday warned that the deeply divided kingdom faces a “cycle of violence” unless steps are taken towards reconciliation after years of civil unrest.
Proposals aimed at healing rifts that have seen Thailand rocked by bloody unrest since a 2006 coup have sparked fury among opposition Thai MPs who fear they will open the door for Yingluck’s brother — ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra — to return.
Protesters from the nation’s “Yellow Shirt” faction blocked lawmakers from entering parliament on Friday to debate a disputed reconciliation bill, as barely concealed political tensions resurface in Thailand.
A rescheduled debate starting on Wednesday has also been “postponed indefinitely,” Udondej Rattanasatien of the ruling Puea Thai Party said on Saturday.
Speaking on a weekly Thai television program, Yingluck said a “reconciliation process” is the only the way out of years of sporadic unrest which has roughly cleaved the kingdom into “Yellow Shirt” and “Red Shirt” factions.
“The country has suffered a lot. If reconciliation can move the country forward, it is suitable,” she said. “If we don’t start [a process], the country will be in a cycle of violence. The country will have no way out.”
Yellow Shirt protesters camped out for three days outside parliament to prevent a debate on the reconciliation bill, and had warned they would try to enter the building if lawmakers opened discussions.
Protest organizers, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the Yellow Shirts’ official name, who are powerful players in Thailand’s color-coded politics, sent supporters home late on Friday after three days of rallying.
Backed by the Bangkok-based elite, the PAD are arch-rivals of Thaksin’s “Red Shirts,” whose massive rallies against a previous government in 2010 ended in a bloody crackdown.
A PAD statement on Saturday said there would be no protests this week, but urged supporters “to be on alert to rally.”
Four reconciliation proposals are up for debate, threatening to further polarize politics in the country that has become increasingly divided in the years since Thaksin was toppled by royalist generals.
Three of the potential bills include amnesties that some fear could be used by the government to usher back the divisive former prime minister, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption and terrorism charges relating to violence in 2010.
Speaking by telephone to a long-planned Red Shirt gathering in a stadium on the outskirts of Bangkok on Saturday, Thaksin said he hoped to return to Thailand, but “I don’t know whether or not I can return home and when.”
Activity on the streets has been mirrored within parliament in recent days, with police stepping in to protect the House speaker on Thursday from bundles of paper thrown by opposition Democrat MPs angry at his attempt to schedule the debate for Friday.
The Democrats have been close to the Yellow Shirts in the past and came to power after 2008 rallies by the movement that culminated with the seizure of two Bangkok airports, stranding more than 300,000 travelers and causing crippling economic damage.