"Now I can keep my job, yeah? That’s a good chap."
Last Friday Pheu Thai MPs made a revision to the amnesty bill to cover the actions of the now-defunct Assets Scrutiny Committee. The ASC was formed by the 2006 coup-makers to investigate Thaksin’s assets. This revision was in addition to the provision that would give amnesty to anyone convicted of politically related crimes by both people and agencies set up following the Sep 19, 2006 military coup.
Coming up next, the vetted bill will go through the second and then final reading in the House. There you have it. This part of the game, thus far, has been well played by Pheu Thai all along.
Firstly, with the amnesty bill not covering lese majeste crimes, Pheu Thai does well in appeasing the conservative establishment and the military, while knowing that their supporters would remain loyal despite of the human rights stance of the red-shirts.
Idealistically the red-shirts should rise up in protest over this, Thailand’s most infamous human rights question. But no matter, loyalty comes before ideology, but after hypocrisy.
Secondly, over its two-plus years in government, Pheu Thai’s strategy has been to tiptoe over and sidestep around the charge that their aim is to seek amnesty for Thaksin and return his assets. Sidelining the most heated issue (Thaksin) in this political divide in order to first consolidate power and make alliances or deals with certain conservative forces within the military and other agencies.
Thirdly, there has been two-years plus of testing the strength and commitment of its opponent’s civil movements, from Pitak Siam to V for Thailand to the People’s Army and others. Thus far, the forces on the streets have shown little that the government needs to worry about.
Fourthly, possibly this is another move in accordance with the Thai proverb, "throw out the rock to ask for direction". Meaning, Pheu Thai is taking it up a step to gauge the mood of the Thai populace on the Thaksin question. If over the next days and weeks the mood is not ripened enough to push the bill through, then the government can always shelve it and wait for another opportunity. No big deal.
Fifthly, if worse comes to worst and social upheavals followed, the prime minister can simply dissolve parliament and call a snap general election. She has hinted at this before. A snap election would likely yield another overwhelming Pheu Thai victory.
This would place an even bigger stamp on its legitimacy and lay roses at the foot of the amnesty bill – though this is of course a bit of a gamble. Furthermore, a snap election could help to solve many of the internal party factional struggles within Pheu Thai itself.
Perhaps all of the above are just figments of my imagination, or perhaps it’s a game well played by Pheu Thai. It remains to be seen what will happen to the amnesty bill and the Thaksin provisions. It remains to be seen at what level the people will react.
But one thing we should recognise is that, amnesty granted for Thaksin would only be theoretical. The practical side is when Thaksin actually touches down on the runway of Suvarnabhumi airport.
There’s a big gulf between the two. But of course, one step at a time for the little engine that could.