Some people are wondering why the Pheu Thai Party has chosen now as the time to push for a blanket amnesty bill to "burst through a dead-end alley".
These people question whether the ruling party is taking a wise turn as such a controversial act will be a distraction for the country, which is still grappling with uncertain economic tides at the global level. If the economy suffers because of this "instability factor", it's the government that will have to deal with the negative consequences.
Critics also reason the time is not yet right as they say the wounds inflicted by the deadly 2010 crackdown have yet to be healed. To absolve everyone involved in the protests and crowd dispersal measures at this point would provoke anger and protests unnecessarily. The attempt is too risky and too soon, they believe.
However, if we look at the world through the eyes of Thaksin Shinawatra, purportedly the brain behind Pheu Thai's every move, perhaps now is the perfect time to try and pass the audacious bill.
The assumption, of course, is that Thaksin wants to return home and whitewash everything that has happened from 1996 to the present. His emphasis on Thailand's need to "reset" speaks volumes.
Opponents of the amnesty bill may see its many big risks. Thaksin, however, can only see the high returns.
From his point of view, Thaksin's opponents have never been weaker. His arch rival, the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), is but a shadow of its mighty past. There are pockets of anti-Thaksin groups here and there, based at Lumpini Park, Uruphong intersection or on social media sites, but they lack unity and are unlikely to gather strength.
The anti-Thaksin base mostly comprises members of the urban middle class. Crushed by the overwhelming ballot triumph by Pheu Thai two years ago, they have yet to find common ground on which to rally.
Some hard-core anti-Thaksin, anti-red shirt members within this group have been incited by the wholesale amnesty move, which they see as a slap in the face to the rule of law. These groups have already announced their plan to hold a mass rally if the bill is passed by parliament. What is yet to be seen is how many people they will be able to gather.
If judged by the standards of anti-Thaksin rallies over the past few years _ those led by Gen Boonlert "Seh Ai" Kaewprasit, by the People's Army against the Thaksin Regime or by various groups wearing Guy Fawkes masks _ the numbers are not on their side. Ten thousand people are not enough to worry anyone. There is not enough force yet that can be harnessed to bring about any real change. This is good news for Thaksin. If he strikes now, his chances of success will be higher.
Another reason the former prime minister may want to try this all-out, time-resetting act at this stage probably stems from a rather simple calculation: If not now, then when?
The government led by his sister Yingluck Shinawatra could easily coast along to complete its term in two years, but it won't become any more popular. Indeed, considering some tight policy corners the government has steered itself into _ the costly rice-pledging policy, the controversial charter amendment attempt and legal questions over its 2-trillion-baht infrastructure investment bill _ the team may only play defensive ball for the rest of its term. What is the point of waiting then?
There are other negative factors that have sprung from Thaksin pushing for an all-out amnesty at present, including the possibility of alienating relatives of red-shirt casualties and members of the movement's liberal faction who insist that those who ordered the crackdown must be prosecuted. But will they be able to block the bill's passage? This is unlikely as the bill will come down to votes in parliament. Pheu Thai MPs and red-shirt leaders in the government will be able to deny responsibility up to a point and claim the verdict is the party's decision.
Does Thaksin care about the red-shirt relatives and the liberal reds? Who knows? But he must think that they can be taken care of, especially if he comes back and resumes power.
If resistance proves too fierce for the Pheu Thai MPs to push the bill through, they can abandon it and amend Section 309 of the charter instead, which will give a similar, turn-back-the-clock outcome.
If worst comes to worst, a House dissolution will still play to Thaksin and the government's advantage. They can take the chance to halt problematic policies and hold a referendum on the amnesty.
So, the gains seem immense. Push for the chance to return Thaksin home, wipe all the slates clean and get back to the game of power against the odds of losing nothing. Perhaps now is the best time to try for the blanket amnesty after all.
Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok Post.
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