Thai Police Brace for Violence as Senate Debates Amnesty LawSuttinee Yuvejwattana and Anuchit Nguyen
Thai police tightened security around the nation’s parliament on concern protesters will use today’s Senate vote on an amnesty bill as a pretext to incite violence to try and destabilize the government.
“We will not use violence against protesters,” police chief Adul Sangsingkeo said today at a media briefing. “We will use standard tear gas and rubber bullets.” The Senate started its debate at about 1 p.m., and a vote may not occur until early tomorrow morning, spokesman Nikom Wairatpanij said.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra last week called for an end to street protests after agreeing to abide by the outcome of a Senate vote even if it scraps legislation that critics argue would exonerate her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup, as well as leaders who oversaw a deadly crackdown on demonstrators in 2010.
The Senate’s failure to muster the numbers for a vote on Nov. 8 caused Thai stocks that day to drop the most in Asia on concern tensions may escalate in a country where political clashes between Thaksin’s supporters and opponents since the coup have led to an airport seizure and arson attacks. The opposition Democrat party has pledged to continue demonstrations even after the Senate vote.
“The patience of the Thai people has reached an end,” Suthep Thaugsuban, a Democrat member of parliament and a leader of the protests, told supporters in a speech late yesterday. “The world will recognize this historic fight.”
Thailand’s latest political impasse is already harming tourism and investor confidence in an economy that’s growing at the slowest pace in Southeast Asia, Bank of Thailand Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said yesterday, adding that the central bank has tools to maintain liquidity in the financial markets.
The benchmark SET Index of stocks fell 0.8 percent as of 2:41 p.m., extending a 1.4 percent decline on Nov. 8. The baht slumped 0.6 percent against the U.S. dollar to its weakest level since Sept. 18, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The amnesty bill has 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 yesterday to counter protests against the government, the Bangkok Post reported today.
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.
Administrations representing both sides of Thailand’s political divide have resisted public calls to review the law, which is designed to shield the royal family from criticism. The U.S. State Department said in April that as many as 18 people were detained at the end of last year for insulting members of the royal family. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 85, has served as head of state since taking the throne in 1946.
Thousands of people joined separate anti-government rallies in Bangkok today as the Senate began debating the amnesty legislation. The police will focus their efforts on stopping people who plan to incite violence, Deputy Police Chief Vorapong Chiewpreecha said today.
“Third parties may use guns and bombs to hurt innocent protesters and blame it on the police,” he said.
Today’s vote also coincides 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.
“We have arranged to facilitate protesters in case they want to move, especially to the Cambodian embassy,” police spokesman Piya Uthayo said yesterday.
In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled in a 9-3 vote that Cambodia had sovereignty over the Preah Vihear border temple, a World Heritage site. It didn’t rule on the land surrounding the temple, and the two countries also 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.
The ICJ is scheduled to announce its ruling in The Hague at 10 a.m. local time, or 4 p.m. in Bangkok.