Inside Story

Paving the way for Thaksin's return?

As tensions grow over a controversial amnesty bill, we ask why the former prime minister still divides Thai society.

Last updated: 09 Nov 2013 11:54
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Thailand's senate has delayed a vote on a controversial government-backed amnesty bill that could give immunity to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The bill would also pardon those who have been involved in political unrest since 2004 and those who ordered a crackdown against protesters in 2010.

I think the government has voted 300 to 10 to 1 not to pass it, to withdraw all the bills. So we feel like okay we withdraw all that and therefore what’s the point about continuing to rally. The costs to be is that the blanket amnesty is no longer there …. Since the 2006 coup, amnesty bill was passed with a new constitution which we use today. When it was passed with a section 309 to pardon the military, none of this group came out on the streets to really protest; and the one whose rule of law was broken was Mr Thaksin Shinawatra. And therefore he deserves to be part of it.

Sean Boonpracong, a national security adviser for the Thai government

Thaksin continues to be a divisive figure in Thai politics even seven years after his removal from office.

A business tycoon-turned-politician, he was deposed by the military in 2006 while on a trip to New York.

He fled to Dubai in 2008, and was since then convicted in absentia of corruption - charges he said were politically motivated.

He was a popular prime minister and credited with spreading education and improving healthcare in Thailand but his opponents say he was an autocratic leader who enriched family members and cronies.

Many say he has been pushing his sister - Yingluck Shinawatra, the current Prime Minister - to help him return to Thailand.

If he is given immunity, he will be able to avoid jail and reclaim his telecommunications fortune that was frozen by the state. and many fear the move could also see 25,000 people walk free of their crimes.

There have been daily protests on the streets of the capital Bangkok against the bill.

Rights groups around the world believe that nobody is going to get justice if this bill is indeed passed.

The lower house of parliament has passed the political amnesty bill and it has gone to the upper house senate. But a group of 40 senators boycotted Friday's session, which failed to attract the minimum number of 75 members needed for debate.

"You have to kill the bill by Monday 6pm because we have seen the government trying to pass the bill for the last two years … We have not seen any commitment to putting down this bill, whatsoever … This amnesty bill is actually opposite of giving justice to people," says Akanat Promphan, a member of the parliament for the opposition Democrat Party.

So what are the potential implications if this bill is passed? Could Thaksin avoid jail and return home? And why is Thaksin Shinawatra still a divisive figure in Thai politics?

Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, discusses with guests: Sean Boonpracong, a national security adviser for the Thai government and a former international spokesperson for the Red Shirts movement; Supong Limtanakool, the chairman of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Bangkok University; and Akanat Promphan, a member of the parliament for the Democrat Party.

"Corruption doesn't pay … We have granted amnesty in the past but never have we granted amnesty for corruption charges, especially the tax evaders ... There are 25,400 politicians and they are corrupting the country. And of 400 cases, nearly 12 cases are against Thaksin Shinawatra and Yingluck Shinawatra and the family of Shinawatra … The latest statistics show that 46.6 percent of the people who were asked about this amnesty bill in northeast - which is the Red Shirt pro-Thaksin voting base - voted against this blanket amnesty because they want justice for the people who ordered the killing of the innocent bystanders and protesters."

Supong Limtanakool, the chairman of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Bangkok University


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