A House committee scrutinising the political amnesty bill on Friday voted to pass the draft legislation with blanket amnesty proposals despite fierce criticism from the opposition.
At the centre of controversy are proposed revisions to Section 3 of the seven-section bill. The House committee approved the revised section by a vote of 18 to five. Those who voted against the bill were Democrat lawmakers and people affiliated with the party.
The revised version of the bill will be placed for the House's second and third readings for the next stage.
The Democrats said the approved bill had been significantly changed and was not in line with the bill principle approved by the House in the first reading.
Section 3 is a central feature of the amnesty bill as it defines which offences will be covered by the proposed amnesty.
The amended section seeks to invalidate the actions and decisions taken by the now-defunct Asset Scrutiny Committee (ASC), that was appointed to investigate alleged irregularities of Thaksin Shinawatra administration after the 2006 coup, as well as those by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which took over the ASC's cases.
It also seeks to absolve all people involved in political unrest, including soldiers, protest leaders and authorities.
However, those found guilty of lese majeste offences under Section 112 of the Criminal Code will be excluded from the revised section's coverage.
The original version of the bill, put forward by Pheu Thai MP for Samut Prakan Worachai Hema, seeks to provide an amnesty for people involved in political unrest between Sept 19, 2006 and May 10, 2011.
It seeks to exclude Thaksin, the protest leaders and authorities responsible for the crackdowns but include all others previously convicted of crimes relating to political violence.
But the coverage period under the revised Section 3 proposed by Pheu Thai's Maha Sarakham MP Prayuth Siripanich is from 2004 to Aug 8 this year, when the committee accepted the bill for vetting.
The proposal seeks to absolve people involved in and accused of political unrest.
The revised section also seeks to exonerate protest leaders, soldiers and authorities responsible for ordering crackdowns.
The new proposals under Section 3 of the bill were met with strong criticism from the Democrats who sit on the committee.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who sits on the committee, said the new proposal was not in accordance with what the committee had agreed to in the first place.
The panel had agreed that the proposed amnesty would cover only ordinary rank-and-file protesters, not protest leaders or authorities responsible for ordering the crackdowns, Mr Abhisit said.
He said if the revised version passes parliament, it will end up exonerating politicians, which goes against the original purpose of the bill.
"The amnesty will only widen conflicts and divisions in the future. We are inviting civil war," Mr Abhisit said.
Democrat MP Boonyod Sooktinthai said the proposal could violate the constitution, as he suspected it may be linked with attempts to return Thaksin's 46 billion baht in seized assets.
The ASC's investigations led to the Supreme Court ruling in 2010 to seize assets worth 46 billion baht from Thaksin's family after finding he had abused his power to benefit his family's telecom business.
Former ASC member Kaewsan Atibodhi, who sits on the scrutiny committee, said it was obvious that Thaksin would benefit from the revised version of the amnesty bill.
"To be honest, if you want to invalidate all the actions and decisions [made by the ASC] after the coup, you'd better amend Section 309," Mr Kaewsan told the meeting.
"Do you, the majority of members of the committee, think the nation belongs to you?" he said.
The majority of the committee yesterday also voted down revisions to the bill proposed by the Democrats.
The Democrats also demanded that Pheu Thai MPs clarify whether the revised version of the bill would eventually lead to the return of Thaksin's seized assets, but Pheu Thai MPs on the committee declined to comment.
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