MFP's amnesty bill shouldn't be ignored
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MFP's amnesty bill shouldn't be ignored

An amnesty bill sponsored by the Move Forward Party (MFP), which aims to benefit all factions involved in political conflicts over nearly two decades, has stirred wide debate.

The bill has long perturbed Thai society. This is the second time it has been submitted to parliament. The first, which was later aborted, was in 2013 when the Yingluck Shinawatra government tried to push for it in what was seen as an attempt to clear her brother Thaksin, who was then in self-exile.

The move triggered massive protests led by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which eventually resulted in military intervention and an extended occupancy of the junta under Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha in politics that lasted almost a decade. Earlier, the country faced an unfortunate situation in 2006 when the army staged an earlier coup following demonstrations led by the PAD yellow-shirt group.

Anxiety is growing over whether this next amnesty attempt will be achieved, resulting in long-awaiting reconciliation.

In the past, all the unity panels, regardless of their political hues, recommended amnesty for all conflicting factions, be they yellow or red-shirt groups. However, the suspicion that Thaksin might have benefited from the process stalled the initiative.

But today's politics greatly differs from Yingluck's time when the public was weary of the Thaksin regime's authoritativeness. Now, the former arch-enemies have aligned. Thaksin returned from his self-imposed exile at the same time as the coalition government -- with junta parties -- was being formed. Thaksin was treated with privilege as Pheu Thai became the coalition leader, raising suspicion about a contentious deal between enemies. Such a transformation has turned Pheu Thai from a progressive party into a right-wing establishment one.

Despite political temperatures cooling, the latest draft of the amnesty law perturbs the pro-status quo mindset that undermines Thai politics.

The core part of the bill is to pardon those charged under Section 112, the lese majeste law, a sensitive point causing discontent in Thai society.

Today's conflicts derive from differences in political opinion. The pro-democracy groups, including young students, face harsh punishment under Section 112. Some are charged with secession or Section 116, computer crime law breaches, contempt of court, violations of the public gathering law, or the emergency decree.

According to the Internet Law Reform Dialogue, at least 1,890 have been charged. Some 228 people have been charged under the lese majeste law, while 1,467 were charged under the emergency decree.

MFP's amnesty proposal aligns with its promises during the May 14 election campaign. Chaitawat Tulathon, MFP leader, insisted that the bill is the first step toward justice and reconciliation and also the start of the end of "lawfare" against people with different political ideologies.

The MFP has focused on those breaching Section 112 as they are facing disproportionately severe punishment, while legal action against those involved with the colour-coded conflict cases is in the final process as most of the leaders have served their time in jail.

For the yellow-shirt group, the leaders of the airport seizure during the anti-Thaksin protests are petitioning the Supreme Court, just like the red-shirt leaders were charged for the violence during the anti-Abhisit Vejjajiva government demonstrations.

The court procedures for the PDRC are well underway, compared to the offenders of Section 112, as most of the cases are still ongoing, with several in the court of first instance.

It's clear pro-democracy groups and some MFP members charged with lese majeste will benefit from the party's legal initiative. If it is passed into law, young students who joined anti-junta protests and were charged with violating the law will be in the clear.

It comes as no surprise that the Srettha Thavisin government refuses to support the MFP proposal, at least for now, despite its enthusiasm for an amnesty during the election campaign. Such reluctance derives from a change of political stance, which has something to do with reducing the jail term for prisoner Thaksin. Pheu Thai may also worry that the MFP will earn more credit if its amnesty bill succeeds. This is a loss for Pheu Thai. Other coalition government parties and the Democrats, which are now in opposition, as well as the Senate, continue to pour cold water on the bill.

That said, the MFP has been isolated from the beginning due to its stance on Section 112's amendment.

The change of political situation, with Pheu Thai transforming into a rightist party and the new role of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as privy councillor, may mark the reinforced strength of the old powers while the move on charter amendment gets nowhere. There is a chance that the country will have to use the junta-sponsored charter further.

However, what's going on cannot bring real reconciliation. How can it be when the younger generation, who will become the next political force, feels the lese majeste law -- which they believe goes against modern liberal democracy and basic human rights -- fails to move with the times?

The old powers may feel secure that they currently have the upper hand, but Section 112 will always be perceived as the elephant in the room until it is addressed.

If not enough, the MFP, despite its strong popularity, also faces an uncertain future, given that it is at risk of being dissolved as its opponents attempt to politicise its poll campaigning regarding the Section 112 amendment.

But leaving all political ideologies aside, the amnesty bill must cover all political groups. Thaksin's jail term for graft can be commuted, and people who have only spoken their minds should be pardoned.

The government or parliament may want to shoot down the MFP-sponsored bill, but it must be realised that those charged in politically motivated cases deserve justice; otherwise, political turbulence is just over the horizon.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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