Thai lawmakers give initial OK to amnesty Bill

Thai lawmakers give initial OK to amnesty Bill

BANGKOK — Thai lawmakers gave initial approval yesterday to a controversial Bill to grant amnesty to people charged with political offences during turmoil that began with a 2006 military coup.

The Lower House of Parliament voted 300 to 124 to accept the government-sponsored Bill in principle after a two-day debate.

Critics of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra fear it is an initial move towards allowing his return from overseas, where he fled to avoid jail after a conflict of interest conviction.

The Bill is also opposed by some human rights groups that suggest it promotes impunity for rights violators, including civilians and security personnel responsible for causing deaths in political unrest from 2008 to 2010.

The government’s firm parliamentary majority ensured the Bill would easily receive initial approval, though the opposition Democrat Party tried vigorously to derail the proceedings by invoking legislative technicalities.

Opposition from outside Parliament was unexpectedly weak, and fears of major clashes involving street protests were not realised.

The fate of Thaksin, who was ousted by the coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect to Thailand’s revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, arouses fierce passions that sometimes have erupted into violence.

In 2008, Thaksin’s so-called Yellow Shirt opponents occupied the Prime Minister’s offices for about three months and Bangkok’s two airports for a week. In 2010, about 90 people were killed when his Red Shirt supporters occupied part of downtown Bangkok for around two months before being swept away by the army.

Even as the Bill stands, it could still get derailed. A 35-person parliamentary committee will vet it to present another draft within seven days, after which the House must pass it twice more. Its signing by the King is a necessary but usually pro-forma formality.

The Bill can also face challenges in the courts, an action the opposition Democrats have already threatened. AP