S112 dominates the amnesty debate
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S112 dominates the amnesty debate

The attorney-general spokesperson Prayuth Bejraguna speaks during an announcement on May 9 to indict former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra over a royal insult case from an interview held nine years ago. (Photo: Reuters)
The attorney-general spokesperson Prayuth Bejraguna speaks during an announcement on May 9 to indict former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra over a royal insult case from an interview held nine years ago. (Photo: Reuters)

Three pending court cases involving former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and allegations of lese majeste violations, as well as bids to dissolve the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP) and remove Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin from office, have effectively thrown the country into political uncertainty, with investors taking flight.

The three court cases involve the manoeuvring of what are perceived to be "the old powers". For example, the case against PM Srettha was brought by a caretaking senator, and the case against MFP comes courtesy of a right-wing conservative petitioner.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) slapped the paroled ex-PM with lese majeste and computer crime charges earlier this month over his interview in 2015 with a Korean media channel, one year after the coup that ousted the Pheu Thai-led government.

Thaksin said he is to see the prosecutors on June 18 to acknowledge the charges after seeking a postponement, citing a Covid-19 infection earlier this month. His decision to report to the prosecutors prompts speculation that deals might have been made to secure bail so he would not have to face the fate of pro-reform young activists who remain in jail without trial. Observers are curious about the conditions for bail if the court grants it to him, like a travel ban or EM device.

Thaksin was visibly frustrated with the indictment, arguing that the S112 case against him had no legal grounds as he did not mention the high institution negatively or do anything deemed insulting to the monarchy.

He said the attempt to knock him down was politically motivated by some powerful individuals, "someone in the forests". The person in question is no other than Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, leader of the Palang Pracharath Party who was a key player in the 2014 coup. The big brother of the coup maker also chairs a foundation for the protection of forests in five provinces.

In his petition to the OAG, Thaksin claimed that police investigators in the case had been pressured to charge him by then.

Thaksin's frustrations are quite understandable. After all, the Pheu Thai Party abandoned its partnership with the MFP and joined forces with the parties affiliated with the military regime at a high political cost. At the same time, the harsh move against him was seen as a break of promises on the part of the old powers, who are said to be concerned over the paroled former PM's aggressive moves in reinvigorating his party. Soon after leaving the hospital in February, Thaksin, who had claimed to be so gravely ill that he had to stay in hospital for six months, travelled extensively to establish or re-establish political connections.

It's said some elements in the old regime are agitated by Thaksin's vigorous tactics, fearing that he may go overboard. This makes them think it's necessary to contain the ex-PM with such a serious charge. This is their last chance to exercise such power before forever leaving office. It's the same group of people who are behind the lawfare against Prime Minister Srettha over the appointment of Pichit Chuenban, who had served time in jail, to his cabinet.

And all eyes are on the court, given its heavy-handedness in the case of young activists campaigning for monarchy reform. Several remain in jail without trial despite the court being obliged to maintain legal standards when handling S112 offenders.

Interestingly, the Thaksin factor may force Pheu Thai and the government to backpedal from the amnesty bill that excludes S112 for the sake of the paroled ex-PM. It should be noted that the party had staunchly exempted lese majeste from its proposed bill until this month when the paroled ex-leader is in trouble with the draconian law. Some Pheu Thai lawmakers started to openly suggest now would be an ideal time to change the party stance on S112 as a good deed to mark His Majesty the King's 72nd birthday this year.

This sparks speculation that Pheu Thai may join hands with the MFP in pushing for the amnesty that covers cases involving political strife and lese majeste cases before the 2006 coup. The latter has openly sympathised with pro-reform young activists who will benefit from such an extensive amnesty. With combined forces from the two major parties, there is a high chance the bill could sail through, hopefully with support from the new Senate.

But Pheu Thai will find that it's not easy, as the far-right conservatives will stand in the way. Several still vividly remember the shameful move by the then-Yingluck administration in 2013 to push for the so-called blanket amnesty bill, which resulted in political tumult, ending with a coup by the National Council for Peace and Order under Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.

More importantly, a recent survey on a civil network-sponsored bill seeking amnesty in political and lese majeste cases dating back to Sept 19, 2006, showed an unfavourable outcome, with about 64.66% rejecting the bill while 35.34% supporting it. The survey was conducted by the Secretariat of the House of Representatives from May 13 until June 12.

If Pheu Thai has not already learnt its lesson over seeking legal favour for Thaksin, there is a risk of political turbulence, and that may give the military an excuse to step in, plunging the country into a political abyss again.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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