Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Thai PM: amnesty on the table

In the interest of national reconciliation, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (above with Deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban) says that he is seriously considering giving amnesty to all banned politicians.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, right, shares a laugh with Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban before attending a meeting at the Democrat party headquarters yesterday. The two were in good spirits after surviving the protests by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship last week. Photo: CHANAT KATANYU

Banned politicians may receive second chance


(Bangkok Post) -Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has brushed aside calls for a cabinet reshuffle but is not ruling out the possibility of pushing for an amnesty for politicians banned from politics.

The prime minister has rejected the idea of talks with convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to end the political impasse, as suggested by leaders of the industrial sector.

Mr Abhisit said he had no intention of changing his cabinet members in the wake of the red shirt riots and complaints from his coalition partners about working with Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu.

Mr Abhisit stressed that any attempts to bring about national reconciliation must be based on righteousness and the rule of law. Granting amnesty to criminal convicts or those facing criminal charges was out of the question.

"I confirm that I'm ready to talk with anyone who acts in line with the law and does not condone violence," the prime minister said.

The government is ready to look at the possibilities of giving amnesty to politicians who were found guilty of political crimes, he said.

Mr Abhisit said certain controversial issues involving political reform and constitution amendments may be put forward for public hearing.

The joint parliamentary session of the House of Representatives and the Senate will be held on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss ways to end the political conflict.

The political reform plan and the proposed constitution amendments are expected to be raised during the joint session.

The prime minister insisted the government would try to do all it could to arrest other United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leaders who are on the run from police.

He also stressed the government would lift the state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding provinces as quickly as possible.

However, People's Alliance for Democracy coordinator Suriyasai Katasila has opposed the constitution rewrite and amnesty proposals.

He said he did not believe the proposals would bring about national reconciliation. They would further stoke the political crisis. An amnesty would cause public mistrust of the government's political reform, which would be seen as nothing but a compromise of interests among politicians, Mr Suriyasai said.

He said the premier might have been pressured by coalition parties to bow to their demands for the constitution amendments and the granting of an amnesty.

Former Thai Rak Thai leader Chaturon Chaisaeng said the prime minister's amnesty proposal was not genuine.

It was meant only to clear the name of leaders of the PAD, not to solve the political problems, Mr Chaturon said.

He said the PAD had violated the law and damaged the country and should not be treated the same way as politicians who were harassed after the military coup of Sept 19, 2006.

Interior Minister Chavarat Charnvirakul denied his Bhumjaithai party had pressured the prime minister to grant an amnesty to the banned politicians.

He said the proposed charter amendment was one way to ease political tensions.

But Deputy Interior Minister Boonjong Wongtrairat, also from Bhumjaithai, said the party disagreed with the amnesty proposal. The party does not support legislation that would only benefit a particular person or a particular group of people.

Government whip chief Chinnaworn Bunyakiat stressed that amnesty must not be granted to those charged with corruption, criminal offences and inciting riots and unrest.

He supported the push for a draft bill on the regulation of public gatherings, saying if enacted, the bill would make it easier for state authorities to handle gatherings without the need to invoke emergency rule.

The government whip will ask political parties to consider and endorse the bill.

Puea Thai MP for Yasothon Peeraphan Palusuk said the party would push for the revival of the 1997 constitution, which was abrogated by the military coup, to replace the present constitution.

All political parties would be asked to hold talks to decide whether to adopt the 1997 constitution in its entirety or only some parts of it.

Mr Peeraphan said Puea Thai had insisted on doing away with some controversial provisions of the present charter which deals with the dissolution of political parties.

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