Thailand’s Senate rejected a bill that would have provided an amnesty for political offenses stretching back to the nation’s 2006 coup, easing concern that street protests in Bangkok may escalate into violence.
Senators voted 141-0 against the draft after more than 10 hours of debate, Surachai Liengboonlertchai, vice president of the Senate, told reporters in Bangkok late yesterday. The bill will be sent back to parliament’s lower house, which can re-submit the bill after 180 days, Surachai said.
Thousands of people joined daily rallies throughout the Thai capital over the past week, arguing that the amnesty law would fail to heal social divisions if it also exonerated politicians including Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted by the military in 2006, and soldiers and political leaders who oversaw a deadly crackdown on demonstrators in 2010.
“This amnesty bill is still not dead, even though the Senate is voting to block the bill,” Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister with the opposition Democrat party, told supporters in Bangkok late yesterday. “The lower house can still bring back the law for approval again.”
Suthep called for a general strike by workers Nov. 13-15, and urged people to join rallies to oust the government, which won a majority in elections in 2011.
The protests have already harmed tourism and investor confidence in an economy that’s growing at the slowest pace in Southeast Asia, central bank Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said Nov. 10.
Overseas investors have sold a net $3.8 billion of Thai shares this year, the most in the region, on concern that political risk has increased in a country where clashes between Thaksin’s supporters and opponents since the coup have led to an airport seizure and arson attacks.
The baht has slumped 1.1 percent against the U.S. dollar in the past week to its weakest level since Sept. 18, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It traded at 31.575 per dollar at 10:50 a.m. local time. The benchmark SET Index (SET) of stocks rose 0.7 percent to 1,415.77.
The amnesty bill angered Thaksin’s opponents, who said it could whitewash crimes he allegedly committed in power, while some of his own supporters criticized the law for protecting opposition leaders who allowed the army to use live ammunition to disperse protesters in 2010 when their Democrat party held power.
Thaksin fled abuse of power charges that stemmed from a military-appointed panel for helping his wife buy land from the government. He’s lived in self-imposed exile overseas, and has helped guide policy from abroad since Yingluck led the Pheu Thai party to victory in a 2011 election.
Parties linked to Thaksin have won the past five elections, and Pheu Thai commands a majority in parliament. About 10,000 members of the pro-Thaksin Red Shirt movement gathered on Bangkok’s outskirts Nov. 10 to counter protests against the government, the Bangkok Post reported yesterday.
Absent from the draft reconciliation laws discussed in recent weeks was protection for people charged for lese-majeste, which mandates jail sentences as long as 15 years for defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir apparent or regent.
Thousands of people joined separate anti-government rallies in Bangkok yesterday as the Senate debated the amnesty legislation. Deputy Police Chief Vorapong Chiewpreecha said yesterday that some demonstrators may use guns and bombs incite violence and blame it on the police.
Yesterday’s vote also coincided with an International Court of Justice ruling in a territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia that has been used in the past to fan nationalist sentiment in Thailand.
The International Court of Justice ruled that Cambodia had sovereignty over the Preah Vihear border temple, a World Heritage site, and urged both countries to hold talks on the use of land surrounding the temple. Thailand and Cambodia have yet to demarcate their 803-kilometer (499-mile) land border and 26,993 square kilometers (10,422 square miles) in the Gulf of Thailand that may contain oil and gas reserves.
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