Deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra appeared to beat a tactical retreat on Sunday night when he told his red-shirt followers he favours an amnesty bill that excludes not only protest leaders and those responsible for the crackdowns, but also himself.
The amnesty would otherwise cover everyone involved in past political violence.
Addressing the red shirts' gathering at Ratchaprasong intersection to mark the third anniversary of the May 19 military crackdown on anti-government protesters, Thaksin said he supported the amnesty bill of Pheu Thai MP for Samut Prakan Worachai Hema.
Around 26,000 red shirts packed the Ratchaprasong area on Sunday evening to watch and listen to Thaksin as he spoke by Skype from Dubai. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)
The bill seeks to grant an amnesty to all people involved in various political unrest in the past but will not cover protest leaders and those who ordered the use of force to quell the protests.
Thaksin's announcement ran counter to a proposal by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung in a bill he plans to file with the House of Representatives tomorrow.
Mr Chalerm's bill seeks to grant a blanket amnesty to everyone involved in the political unrest, from the 2006 military coup to the 2010 military dispersal of the red shirts at Ratchaprasong intersection.
Thaksin surprised many political observers as his remarks contradicted his earlier statement that he supported Mr Chalerm's bill.
The former premier had told Pheu Thai MPs to press ahead with charter amendment and go ahead with their push for a blanket amnesty. Thaksin himself would benefit from a blanket amnesty.
Thaksin's abrupt U-turn shows that he has recognised the red shirts' demand. The red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship made its remarks on Sunday, demanding the government and lawmakers enact an amnesty law that grants an amnesty to everyone involved in the political violence.
They insisted, however, that the people who ordered the military crackdown that resulted in a large number of deaths must not be included. Thaksin's flip-flop appears to reflect his possible concern the Chalerm bill may upset the red shirts which could have a negative impact on the government of his sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
As many as 149 Pheu Thai MPs signed in support of Mr Chalerm's bill. But the bill will require the state to compensate parties damaged during past political unrest.
The bill's content could make it a piece of financial legislation, requiring the prime minister's endorsement before it is forwarded to parliament. If parliament does not endorse it, the prime minister and her entire cabinet must take responsibility by resigning. "It is highly unlikely Mr Chalerm's bill will be passed because it offers an amnesty to all demonstrators, authorities and demonstration leaders," said a Pheu Thai Party source, who was among those who signed to support Mr Chalerm's bill. "No one will be held responsible. That is unacceptable even to neutral parties."
Several Pheu Thai Party MPs have withdrawn their names from the bill because they realise it could backfire on the government, the source said.
Mr Chalerm, however, is considering removing a clause concerning financial compensation from the bill to dissociate it from the government and the prime minister, the source said.
Political observers, however, said that despite backtracking from the Chalerm bill, it is unlikely Thaksin would give up his plan to push for a wider amnesty that would also benefit himself.
The source said the Pheu Thai Party would not support Mr Chalerm's bill and would give its support to Mr Worachai's bill instead.
Mr Worachai's bill can still be changed during the scrutiny process to serve Thaksin's wishes.
Suda Rangkuphan, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Arts and a red-shirt faction leader, said Mr Worachai's bill would satisfy the red-shirt demonstrators who want the authorities punished for ordering the crackdowns.
Mr Worachai said Monday that Mr Chalerm should shelve his bill because he doubted the Pheu Thai Party would support it after Thaksin's comments on Sunday.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said Monday that the remarks by Thaksin and the red-shirt leaders on Sunday were lies.
Thaksin said the public has learned the Democrat Party's allegations that red-shirt leaders burned down the city were groundless. The Criminal Court had acquitted suspects in the CentralWorld arson case due to weak evidence.
Mr Abhisit said the red-shirt demonstrations had ended and the protest leaders agreed to turn themselves in that day.
He said the protest leaders had earlier urged their followers to set Bangkok on fire and Thaksin had encouraged the demonstrators to go to provincial halls.
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Writer: Nattaya Chetchotiros & Aekarach Sattaburuth