Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s push for a royal pardon that may benefit her brother, exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, will destabilize the country, an opposition leader said.
“It’s no surprise that they are trying to get him back,” ex-Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, deputy leader of the opposition Democrat Party, said today in a telephone interview with Bloomberg Television from Bangkok. “The manner in which he is trying to come back is somewhat shocking, but it is still to be seen whether they will succeed.”
Reports of an amnesty decree in celebration of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Dec. 5 birthday sparked criticism that the government was seeking Thaksin’s return instead of focusing on combating floods that have swamped parts of Bangkok and crippled manufacturing hubs. A pardon may trigger the kind of protests that erupted in 2008 when Thaksin’s opponents seized airports to help oust his allies the last time they held power.
The government is discussing an amnesty that may apply to Thaksin, deposed in a military coup five years ago and convicted in absentia in 2008 to two years in jail. Yingluck’s Cabinet approved rule changes for the annual royal reprieve to make convicts over the age of 60 with sentences of less than three years to be eligible, the Bangkok Post reported yesterday, without saying where it obtained the information.
“The attempt to actually try to come back in this manner is going to destabilize what has been an improving political climate in Thailand, notwithstanding the gross mismanagement of the recent floods by the government,” Korn said.
Details of the decree “aren’t finalized,” Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung said yesterday. About 26,000 prisoners may seek the royal pardon this year, he said.
The justice ministry drafts changes to the decree each year, Chalerm said. The proposed amnesty needs to be approved by the government’s legal advisory body, the Council of State, before being forwarded to the King, he said.
Thaksin, 62, has lived overseas since 2008, when a court sentenced him to two years in jail for helping his wife buy land from the government in a verdict he has called politically motivated. Yingluck was appointed prime minister on Aug. 9 after her Pheu Thai party’s majority win in July elections, the fifth straight time a party linked to Thaksin has won the most seats in an election since 2001.
Yingluck refused to confirm whether the government plans to change to the amnesty law, saying late yesterday that she missed the Nov. 15 Cabinet meeting because she was returning from a visit to flood-affected areas.
“It’s a common process, and we will make sure it complies with the rule of law,” she said.
Flooding this year has affected 64 of Thailand’s 77 provinces, shuttered 10,000 factories, destroyed 15 percent of the nation’s rice crop and threatened the homes of 20 percent of the country’s 67 million people, according to government data. The death toll rose to 567, the government said today.
The military has received greater public approval in handling the floods than the government, according to an Assumption University poll that surveyed 1,478 people in Bangkok and its outskirts from Nov. 1 to Nov. 5.
Thaksin’s supporters, known as Red Shirts, blockaded parts of Bangkok in the past two years to push for an election after smaller parties in 2008 switched sides in a parliamentary vote to give the premiership to Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat party. Protests last year that culminated in a military crackdown on Thaksin’s supporters left 91 people dead.
“Each year’s pardon is only made to those already incarcerated or who have shown some remorse or good behavior,” Korn said. “Never before has it been given to somebody who has refused to accept the verdicts. Not least somebody who has in his absence been trying to instigate mass protest and violence in his own home country.”