The ruling Pheu Thai party would appear to have limited time in which to recognise red shirt sentiment against the "wholesale amnesty" as a huge showdown would be organised if it gave a "blank cheque" to those who ordered the 2010 crackdown.
Red Sunday Group turns up at Ratchaprasong intersection on Sunday afternoon to express their opposition to a wholesale amnesty. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)
More than 200 red shirt activists led by the Red Sunday Group turned up at Ratchaprasong intersection on Sunday to express their dissatisfaction over the "twisted amendment" to the amnesty bill that would benefit former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban over the bloody crackdown in April-May 2010 in exchange for the return of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
It was the second rally by the normally pro-government red shirts against the amended amnesty bill following the protest by relatives of those affected by the crackdown last Thursday.
The red shirts spontaneously appeared at the intersection Sunday for a discussion at a nearby McDonalds, where they used to gather right after the crackdown three years ago.
A 73-year-old woman, a frequent demonstrator at splinter rallies, said she could not make peace with the ruling Pheu Thai Party for whom she voted, even though she would like to see de facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra return to Thailand.
"I was perhaps the last person there before the Siam Cinema was set on fire. There was no one else there but the soldiers. I cannot let Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban off the hook," said the bespectacled woman.
Sombat Boongam-anong, 46, a core member of the Red Sunday Group, said the ruling party's move for a wholesale amnesty was beyond the grasp of red shirt sympathisers.
"Thaksin and other party leaders have failed to explain to their supporting masses what is really behind the compromise deal. No matter how complicated the pressing behind-the-scene factors are, they should be able to speak about it. Today politics can no longer be exclusive and dictated by back-door-negotiations," said Mr Sombat, one of the most vociferous protesters opposed to the previous Abhisit administration.
The Sunday gathering, he said, was not organised to topple the government but to "bitterly inform the party to be aware of these loyal but increasingly aching souls" angered by the u-turn in parliament.
"Our presence is to maintain the integrity of the sane and principled red shirt members as another movement is walking in the opposite direction into the soi," said Mr Sombat.
Despite being a capitalist-dominated party, Pheu Thai still needed the legitimacy of mass support and he would like to beg the party's leaders to back off and get back to the original draft of the Worachai Hema-proposed bill which would release ordinary members from political entanglement, said Mr Sombat, who is also president of the Mirror Foundation.
The passage of the second and third readings currently being pushed by Thaksin would face protests by more than 10,000 people, he said, referring to the limited number of people mentioned by Thaksin as being opposed to the bill.
"If they still defy the demands of the rank-and-file who shed tears and blood by compromising to get immunity for certain authorities to the detriment of those members, the people will have to come out onto the street. But if the number is less [than 10,000], it will mean the Pheu Party has won this game," he said.
Mr Sombat was not too concerned about the anti-government demonstrations as he believes there are no compelling issues such as the Temasek share sales case that could cause the elected administration to be kicked out as in 2006.
"But this amendment has unnecessarily invoked more people to join the anti-government efforts and is crippling the government's efforts to improve its performance," said Mr Sombat.
Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a Thammasat University history lecturer, said the red shirts felt cheated and their arms were being twisted after having shown wholehearted support for the Worachai bill.
"If the Pheu Thai Party had made it clear right from the beginning that it would come up with this compromise deal, the red shirts would not feel cheated," said Mr Somsak.
Suchart Nakbangsai, 55, once jailed for lese majeste, said if the ruling party was allowing for immunity for Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep, why did it not include lese majeste prisoners in the deal.
Mr Suchart said he would not go against Thaksin's return or the release of other red shirts from jail, but the deal should include the whole spectrum of political prisoners.
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