The move in parliament on Friday when Pheu Thai MPs managed to push a new version of an amnesty through the 35-member House panel vetting the amnesty bill resembles what I would call a "silent coup".
This "silent coup" might have been plotted at the same time Worachai Hema and Samart Kaewmeechai, both Pheu Thai MPs, proposed the amnesty bill to the parliament with the aim of absolving all political protesters, both red and yellow, with the exception of their leaders, of all criminal offences. Lese majeste offences are not included.
The move, which was spearheaded by another Pheu Thai MP, Prayuth Siripanich, also the panel's vice-chairman, apparently caught off guard the opposition members of the panel, including Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and Kaewsan Atibodhi, a member of the now-defunct Assets Scrutiny Committee.
Mr Prayuth, aka the "crew-cut head", proposed an amendment to Article 3 of the amnesty bill which, according to its opponents, would "whitewash" exiled fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of all wrongdoing and would allow him to reclaim the 46 billion baht seized from him by the state.
It was a perfectly timed "coup" by the Pheu Thai MPs, as their opponents on the House panel were unaware of the move as they appeared to have been misled from the very beginning that the amnesty bill would not cover Thaksin, the protest leaders in political protests since 2004, and Mr Abhisit, as well as Suthep Thaugsuban, over their roles in the crackdown on red-shirt protesters in 2010.
Although the opponents on the panel protested vehemently, they were out-voted. It was not just rule by majority, but rule by the majoritarians who dominate parliament these days. The opposition can speak or criticise as much as it wants, or for as long as they are allowed to. But at the end of the day, the majoritarian Pheu Thai Party has the final say.
Unsurprisingly, Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the leader of the 2006 coup which toppled the Thaksin regime, also voted in support of Mr Prayuth's version of the amnesty bill.
The vetted bill will return to the House for the second and final readings which should be completed before the parliament goes into recess on Nov 29. This will be an opportunity for the Democrats to mount an offensive against the revised bill which will certainly set the House on fire.
The pertinent question in my mind is: Will this gamble by the ruling Pheu Thai Party spark a mass protest?
The opposition Bhumjaithai Party's deputy secretary-general Supachai Jaisamut, also a member of the House amnesty bill vetting committee, said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra would be held responsible if the revised bill provokes mass protest and escalates political conflicts.
Suriyasai Katasila of the Green Party warned that the new version of the amnesty bill was an invitation to trouble for the government.
As of now, it seems no one can tell whether there will be a mass protest. The best way to find out the answer or, at least a clue to the answer, is to feel the political pulse at the Uruphong anti-government protest site.
If the protest leaders take the revised amnesty bill as an issue and manage to fire up the sentiment of anti-Thaksin people in Bangkok, then there is a good chance that the crowd at Uruphong will get bigger and the protest will escalate. Since the beginning of the protest at Uruphong, the protest leaders have appeared to lack a strong and valid issue to mobilise supporters. The normal crowd of protesters each day ranges from a few hundred during the day time to a few thousand on the odd night.
If there actually is a mass protest against the revised amnesty bill, the Pheu Thai Party can always pull back and wait for another opportunity to try again, as it has done in the past regarding some contentious bills. For the Pheu Thai Party and Thaksin, this is not a dead or alive issue. It is just a gamble that they feel they have little chance of losing.
But a potentially more explosive issue which can be more threatening to the government's stability is the Preah Vihear conflict between Thailand and Cambodia. A verdict by the International Court of Justice is scheduled to be announced on Nov 11.
If the court decides the case should be dismissed, or if it reaches a compromise ruling, that will be a blessing for the government and for the two countries. But if the court rules that the 4.6 sq km disputed area surrounding the ancient temple _ claimed by both countries _ belongs to Phnom Penh, then it will be a perfect issue for the government's opponents to stir up anti-government sentiment and to take to the streets.
But I hope that the court will be logical and come up with a solution that will bring peace and prosperity for Thailand and Cambodia.
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
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