The ruling Pheu Thai Party has cautioned the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP) to be careful that its push for an amnesty law does not trigger a major new political conflict.
Submitted to House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha on Thursday, the draft has already prompted some regular critics of the MFP — among them Senator Somchai Swangkarn — to jump to the conclusion that the party wants a blanket amnesty for offenders under the lese-majeste law, Section 112 of the Criminal Code.
The submission of the bill was apparently intended to coincide with the 47th anniversary of the Oct 6, 1976 bloodbath of pro-democracy protesters, many of them students, at Thammasat University.
Move Forward leader Chaithawat Tulathon said the bill would apply to political offenders who faced legal action for their participation in protests triggered by political divisions, starting from Feb 11, 2006, the first protest held by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) against the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, until the day the bill takes effect.
Aside from the PAD, other groups expected to benefit from the law include the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), or the red shirts, which protested against the coup makers and the military-installed government from 2009 until 2010; the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which rallied against the Yingluck Shinawatra administration from 2013 to 2014; the student and other protest groups who opposed the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) from 2014 to 2019; and the Ratsadorn Group, which protested against the Prayut Chan-o-cha regime from 2020 to 2021.
Pheu Thai leader Chusak Sirinil said Move Forward needs to be more prudent in its new movement to push for an amnesty, or the move could trigger new divisions in society as the draft law could be interpreted differently by various groups.
Considering the opposition party’s stance on the lese-majeste law and previous calls for amnesty for Section 112 offenders, Mr Chusak said he was particularly concerned about this movement.
Pheu Thai remains undecided as to whether or not it will submit its own version along with the Move Forward draft.
Painful lessons from history
The reason, he said, is that the party is still split over the matter and also painfully aware of its history of being accused of pushing similar bills in the past.
He was referring to Pheu Thai’s attempts to pass a very broad amnesty law during the Yingluck Shinawatra administration. The proposed amnesty ignited the mass demonstrations by the PDRC which blasted the legislation as a legal whitewash for Thaksin.
Responding to Move Forward’s assertion that its amnesty bill is the first step towards bringing the so-called legal war and conflicts associated with it to an end so that national peace can be restored, Mr Chusak said the party needs to try harder to convince the public of its reasoning.
Former Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat, now chief adviser to the party, insisted the new amnesty movement was purely motivated by an intention to defuse ongoing political conflicts by ensuring justice to all sides.
Mr Chaithawat on Friday reiterated that differences in opinion on the aims of the bill could be reconciled in the legislative process in parliament. All sides involved would be able to have a say on the draft from the first reading until the third and final reading if it gets that far, he said.
Senator Somchai, however, believes Move Forward has an ulterior motive.
“The hidden goal is to create a blanket amnesty to whitewash a large number of Section 112 offenders, and that would really fan the flames of the lasting political conflicts,” said the senator.
Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, a United Thai Nation Party list MP, also warned that the bill would never be successful if it also covered Section 112 offenders.
Moreover, he said, it would be unfair to those state officers who were duty-bound to handle past anti-government protests. Move Forward insists its bill would not cover authorities who used excessive force in cracking down on demonstrators. Nor would it cover protesters involved in insurrection or those who caused harm to other lives.