Amnesty bill faces uncertainty
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Amnesty bill faces uncertainty

Thaksin Shinawatra is swamped by supporters as he enters the Pheu Thai headquarters in March. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
Thaksin Shinawatra is swamped by supporters as he enters the Pheu Thai headquarters in March. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

An amnesty for people charged and prosecuted in political cases is long overdue and a fresh bid to push for one this time round is unlikely to trigger political turmoil like the previous attempt in 2013, according to political analysts.

The proposed amnesty is being studied by a 35-member special House committee headed by Pheu Thai MP Chusak Sirinil. The committee was set up in February as proposed by the ruling party.

The matter involves the scope of any amnesty, particularly the periods of time and the individuals that the amnesty would cover.

The issue has been thrust into the public spotlight and reignited talks about whether the amnesty legislation should cover offences under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law, as former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra faces an indictment for allegedly violating the law.

The charges against Thaksin, widely seen as the de facto leader of the ruling party, are related to remarks he made during an interview given to a South Korean newspaper in Seoul on Feb 21, 2015. He is scheduled to meet the prosecution on June 18 so the indictment process can begin.

Path to unity

Phichai Ratnatilaka Na Bhuket, programme director for politics and development strategy at the National Institute of Development Administration, said the time is ripe for an amnesty to end political divisions and achieve reconciliation.

He insisted political cases can be granted an amnesty and said a consensus is evolving about which criminal offences related to political activities should be exempted.

Amnesty proposals usually exclude serious offences such as corruption or instigating violence.

Ongoing efforts to push for an amnesty, however, get stuck because no agreement can be reached on whether it should cover offences under Section 112, he said.

There are two opposing views when it comes to the lese majeste issue, according to the analyst.

One says the offences are politically motivated while the other argues they are offences of national security, he said, adding the question is how to draw the line.

Mr Phichai said the Pheu Thai Party initially appeared to have no enthusiasm toward the proposed amnesty for lese majeste cases, but the party's tone changed after Thaksin himself was indicted on charges of violating the law.

With Thaksin facing a trial, it is possible that lese majeste will be included on the list of offences that would be pardoned under the political amnesty bill, the analyst said.

However, he did not think a blanket pardon would be granted for lese majeste offenders, saying the criteria are expected to be drawn up for use in reviewing lese majeste cases.

"If Pheu Thai wants to push [the bill], it will have to work it out with the coalition partners which are ideologically opposed to the idea. The exclusion of lese majeste is unlikely to end the political conflict," he said.

Mr Phichai said the fresh effort to push for amnesty is unlikely to lead to another round of political commotion because the political landscape has changed compared with a decade ago.

He was referring to the 2013 attempt during the Yingluck Shinawatra government to pass a blanket amnesty law.

The move led to massive street protests that ended in the May 2014 military coup.

Phichai: Blanket pardon is unlikely

'Helping the young'

Pheu Thai MP Cherdchai Tantisirin, who sits on the special House committee on political amnesty, said the panel is about to wrap up its study which will include recommendations about how to proceed with an amnesty and if the lese majeste issue should be included.

He said if the report is endorsed by the House, parties can use the committee's recommendations to write up or fine-tune their own versions of an amnesty bill.

Dr Cherdchai said personally he agrees that the amnesty should include lese majeste offenders but the cases which are highly sensitive may be reviewed by a special committee.

"It's not about Thaksin. The panel was formed to study before Thaksin [faced the indictment]," he said.

He said the committee has also discussed if any measures can be implemented to help young activists who are facing criminal charges related to their political activities without waiting for an amnesty.

The Pheu Thai MP said the ruling party will decide later how to proceed with the amnesty, adding it may exclude Section 112 in the bill or may not propose the bill at all.

Cherdchai: Include with exceptions

Move Forward Party (MFP) deputy leader Pol Maj Gen Supisarn Bhakdinarinath said the committee had been avoiding Section 112 in its study until the lese majeste case against Thaksin.

An MFP's proposal, however, is aimed at forging national unity and helping young political activists because the lese majeste law has been exploited to deepen the political conflict, he said.

Pol Maj Gen Supisarn said the party has no interest in who will benefit from the proposal as long as they meet the criteria set forth in the amnesty plan, adding support from the coalition parties is welcome.

Asked if the new bid will spark a fresh conflict, he said the 2013 effort to pass an amnesty bill went awry because it was carried out in a hush-hush manner.

As long as the bill is openly discussed, it may draw objection but will not incite any chaos, he noted.

The amnesty bill proposed in 2103 was seen by critics as a tool to absolve all criminal offences without clear and justifiable reasons.

When proposed, it sought only to grant an amnesty to the protesters, but the revised version expanded the scope to cover all people involved in political unrest, including soldiers, protest leaders and authorities.

The House passed the bill at 4.25am on Nov 1, 2013, drawing fierce public opposition and prompting the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee's demonstrations against the Yingluck government.

Pol Maj Gen Supisarn said it remains to be seen what the ruling party's next steps will be after the special House committee concludes its study.

Supisarn: No chaos with disagreement

'Thaksin factor'

Former red-shirt movement leader Jatuporn Prompan expressed support for an amnesty for all politically-motivated offences to resolve the political division which erupted in 2005.

He suggested that conditions may also apply such as a requirement for those who benefit from the amnesty that they would not repeat the offences, or face prosecution.

Mr Jatuporn said lobbying coalition parties to support the amnesty plan for political offenders would not be an uphill task.

The hard part was figuring out how to lobby them to get on board with the lese majeste issue, he said.

Mr Jatuporn also slammed the Pheu Thai Party for its flip-flop on the proposed amnesty for lese majeste offenders, saying any attempt would be more difficult now with Thaksin in the picture.

However, he did not think the Pheu Thai-led government would collapse if it decided to go ahead and whether or not an amnesty plan with lese majeste cases materialises depends on public sentiment.

"An amnesty for Section 112 is already controversial because coalition partners disagree with it. Thaksin is set to be indicted, so it will be harder due to public resistance," he said.

Jatuporn: Backing for political cases

The Bhumjaithai Party warned last week the ruling party's attempt to include a blanket pardon for lese majeste offenders could lead to the government's early demise.

Jua Ratchasi, a member of the coalition United Thai Nation Party, said the party-sponsored national unity bill proposes a committee to review political cases which exclude lese majeste and corruption offences.

He said the lese majeste offences are not political offences by nature because the monarchy is not involved in politics.

The offenders must face a penalty and seek royal pardon only, he added.

Jua: Lese majeste is not a political charge

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