The Thai Senate has defeated an amnesty bill that could have led to the return from exile of deposed former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, but opponents of the bill vowed to continue their protests against the government.
The main opposition Democrat Party called for civil disobedience and a three-day nationwide strike beginning tomorrow in what is seen as a campaign to bring down the government led by Thaksin’s sister, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Critics say the amnesty bill was an attempt by the government to whitewash Thaksin’s alleged crimes and pave the way for his return. Thaksin fled the country in 2008 to escape a two-year jail term on a corruption charge.
The Senate voted 141-0 late on Monday night to reject the bill after the ruling party withdrew its support. Although the more-powerful lower House of Representatives can legally pass legislation without Senate approval after a 180-day wait, Yingluck and the government coalition parties have pledged that the bill will not be revived.
Demonstrations against the bill have spread since it was passed by the lower house on Nov. 1. Their target was to oppose the bill and Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup over allegations of corruption and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Disputes between Thaksin’s supporters and opponents arouse fierce passions, which culminated in a 2010 military crackdown on Thaksin supporters that left about 90 people dead.
Paving the way for Thaksin’s return has been an unspoken priority of Yingluck’s government, which won an absolute parliamentary majority in 2011 elections due largely to Thaksin’s popularity in rural areas and among the urban poor, who benefited from his government’s populist programs.
The bill also triggered opposition from the pro-government supporters who wanted to prosecute those behind the killings during the 2010 crackdown.
On Monday evening, Democrat Party lawmakers called for a three-day strike by businesses and schools to allow people to join the protests; a withholding of taxes that allegedly go for corruption; the display of the national flag; and the blowing of whistles, which have become a tool of protest, near government leaders.
Democrat lawmaker and former Thai deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, along with eight other party lawmakers, said they were resigning their parliamentary seats to lead the anti-government campaign. The resignations are a legal shield for the party, which could face dissolution if its lawmakers were found guilty of trying to unlawfully unseat a constitutional government.
Yingluck yesterday appealed for anti-government groups to end ongoing street protests.
Anger over the amnesty proposal saw about 50,000 people cluster in the political heart of Bangkok late on Monday, with about 2,500 anti-government protesters remaining on the streets early yesterday.
“As many of their demands have been met, I plead for those protesting to stop,” she told reporters, appealing to the public to give her government time to run the country.
“The Democrats are now trying to enable conditions on the street to prod a judicial intervention ... to upend Yingluck’s government,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
Predicting the anti-government protesters will try to hold their ground until early next month, Thitinan described the situation “as extreme brinkmanship” aimed at “provoking Yingluck’s government into an over-reaction.”