Thailand’s biggest opposition party led thousands of supporters on a march through Bangkok’s streets today in an attempt to derail government efforts to pass an amnesty law for political offenses.
About 10,000 demonstrators joined rallies that paralyzed traffic in separate parts of Bangkok, according to police estimates. The Democrat party has vowed to continue organizing demonstrations unless the government scraps the bill.
Thai stocks fell to a one-month low and the baht dropped on concern the legislative push will spark instability in a country that has been wracked by street violence since a 2006 coup that ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. Some of the bill’s opponents say the amnesty will whitewash crimes Thaksin committed while in power.
“We are here to protect the country from a group of corrupt people who passed this unfair law,” Suthep Thaugsuban, a Democrat member of parliament, said before leading a march from Bangkok’s Samsen railway station. “We will bring our supporters to worship the sacred symbol that has helped protect our country for a long time,”
The baht declined 0.2 percent to 31.26 per dollar as of 4:40 p.m. in Bangkok and touched a two-week low of 31.358 earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The yield on the 3.875 percent debt due June 2019 held steady at 3.6 percent. The benchmark SET Index of stocks fell 2.9 percent, its biggest drop since Sept. 23.
In its initial draft, the law would have freed members of the public charged with crimes committed during past political clashes. A parliamentary committee amended the draft to include soldiers and politicians who oversaw deadly crackdowns on protesters, and people charged on the basis of investigations by state agencies established after the coup.
Thaksin’s opponents say the proposed changes will allow him to recoup his fortune and return to Thailand without spending time in jail. In 2008, Thaksin fled abuse of power charges that stemmed from a military-appointed panel, for helping his wife buy land from the government.
Some of Thaksin’s supporters, known as the Red Shirts, have also criticized the law because it would protect politicians who ordered a crackdown on demonstrators in 2010. More than 100 people have been killed during protests since the 2006 coup.
Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, now an opposition leader who faces murder charges for authorizing soldiers to use weapons during the 2010 unrest, opposes the legislation, even though he himself would benefit, as would Suthep, Abhisit’s former deputy who led today’s march.
Abhisit in August said the bill may lead to a pardon for Thaksin. His Democrat party separately opposed changes to an article in the constitution that gave an amnesty to generals for staging the 2006 coup against Thaksin.
Opinion polls show most voters are opposed to a blanket amnesty. An Assumption University poll released yesterday showed 87.2 percent of respondents aren’t confident the law will help reconcile Thai society and believe the bill is designed to benefit Thaksin. The poll surveyed 1,198 people in Bangkok and other major cities Oct. 28-Nov. 2, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 7 percent.
A Suan Dusit Rajabhat University poll released Nov. 2 showed 11 percent of respondents support the government’s amnesty proposal and 58 percent oppose it. The survey of 1,134 people in Bangkok and its outskirts on Oct. 29-31 had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
The Senate may debate the bill starting Nov. 11 and a vote might occur within 60 days, speaker Nikom Wairatpanich said today. The government, led by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra, commands a majority in parliament.
“Our country has been wounded before and people are concerned because they don’t want to see a repeat of the violence,” Yingluck told reporters today. “If we don’t forgive and do nothing, we are concerned that we will return to a cycle of disputes.”
Rally organizers said they would move the main site of the protest to Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Klang Road.
Abhisit, the opposition leader, has said the Democrats will petition the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of the law. Thaksin, sensing the bill could be overturned by the court, is preparing the ruling Pheu Thai party to hold a snap election early next year, the Bangkok Post reported today, citing an unidentified party member.
Parties linked to Thaksin have won the past five elections on support from rural areas, including the 2011 vote that brought his sister to power.