Thailand’s biggest opposition party led thousands of supporters on a march through Bangkok yesterday in an attempt to derail government efforts to pass an amnesty law for political offenses.
According to police estimates, about 10,000 demonstrators joined rallies that paralyzed traffic in separate parts of Bangkok. The Democrat Party has vowed to continue organizing demonstrations unless the Thai government scraps the bill.
Some of the bill’s opponents say its passage would whitewash crimes committed by former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra while in power.
“We are here to protect the country from a group of corrupt people who passed this unfair law,” Democrat Party Member of Parliament Suthep Thaugsuban told protestors before leading a march from the Samsen Railway Station to the Grand Palace.
The bill was approved by the lower house of Thailand’s parliament on Friday.
In its initial draft, the law would have freed members of the public charged with crimes committed during past political clashes. A parliamentary committee later amended the draft to include soldiers and politicians who oversaw deadly crackdowns on protesters, and people charged on the basis of investigations by state agencies established after the coup.
Thaksin’s opponents say the changes would allow him to recoup his fortune and return to Thailand without going to jail. In 2008, Thaksin fled abuse of power charges that stemmed from a military-appointed panel, for helping his wife buy land from the government.
Some of Thaksin’s supporters, known as the Red Shirts, have also criticized the law because it would protect politicians who ordered a crackdown on demonstrators in 2010. More than 100 people have been killed during protests since the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin.
Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, now an opposition leader who faces murder charges for authorizing soldiers to use weapons during the 2010 unrest, opposes the bill, even though he himself would benefit, as would Suthep, Abhisit’s former deputy prime minister.
Opinion polls show most voters oppose blanket amnesty. An Assumption University poll released yesterday showed 87.2 percent of respondents are not confident the law will help reconcile Thai society and believe the bill is designed to benefit Thaksin. A Suan Dusit Rajabhat University poll on Saturday last week showed 11 percent of respondents support the proposal and 58 percent oppose it.
The Thai Senate may debate the bill starting on Monday next week and a vote may occur within 60 days, speaker Nikom Wairatpanich said yesterday.
The government of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck, Thaksin’s sister, commands a majority in parliament.
“Our country has been wounded before and people are concerned because they don’t want to see a repeat of the violence,” she said yesterday. “If we don’t forgive and do nothing, we are concerned that we will return to a cycle of disputes.”
Abhisit said the Democrats will petition the Thai Constitutional Court to rule on the law’s legality.
Thaksin, sensing the bill could be overturned, is preparing the ruling Pheu Thai Party to hold a snap election early next year, the Bangkok Post reported yesterday.